Book #38

The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud by Ben Sherwood

A haunting story of a young man who narrowly survives a terrible car wreck that kills his little brother. Years later, the brothers’ bond remains so strong that it transcends the normal boundaries separating life and death. Charlie St. Cloud lives in a snug New England fishing village. By day he tends the lawns and monuments of the ancient cemetery where his younger brother, Sam, is buried. Graced with an extraordinary gift after surviving the accident, he can still see, talk, and even play catch with Sam’s spirit. But townsfolk whisper that Charlie has never recovered from his loss.

Into his carefully ordered life comes Tess Carroll, a captivating, adventuresome woman training for a solo sailing trip around the globe. Fate steers her boat into a treacherous storm that blows her back to harbor, to a charged encounter with Charlie, and to a surprise more overwhelming than the violent sea itself. Charlie and Tess discover a beautiful and uncommon connection that leads to a race against time and a desperate choice between death and life, between the past and the future, between holding on and letting go.

This is a wholesome, if predictable, tale of grief, love, and how we deal with both.

Charlie is such a tragic character, and Sherwood does well to show us his inability to move on after the death of his brother. Shackled to his hometown, working in the cemetery, a slave to his routine, he feels obliged to continue this life to the most miniscule detail in an effort to remain close to his brother. His brother who, inexplicably, appears every night in ghostly form to play a charming little game of catch.

When Charlie meets Tess, he begins to envision a life which looks different, one with excitement and enrichment. He comes to a point where he will do anything for this woman, until she goes missing and he must balance his intricate routine with his dogged search for her. But the immediate question is why she turned up in the cemetery after she took to the seas and supposedly drowned.

I was less interested in the romance and twist here than I was in the messages Sherwood was sending me. He raised thoughts in me of the rituals and routines we take when we lose a loved one - rituals and routines which help us cope. Although Charlie’s are extreme and supernatural, many of us will have our own. Visiting graves on anniversaries, wearing jewellery belonging to them, meeting with others on key dates to remember them - all of these are healthy routines which become tradition. Sherwood is showing us that sometimes these tributes can become harmful, and there’s an importance in recognising that - something which I hadn’t considered before.

Despite the romance bordering on cliche, the hellbent religiosity, and that I immediately worked out what was going on here, I did enjoy this for the messages, and for the simple heartwarmingness of it all.