Second Lives by P.D. Cacek
My Rating: 2.5/5 TARDISes
Date Published: April 11th, 2019
Publisher: Flame Tree Press
Pages: 256 pages
Synopsis: When four patients unexpectedly wake after being declared dead, their families are ecstatic and the word “miracle” begins to be whispered throughout the hospital. But the jubilation is short lived when the patients don’t respond to their names and insist they are different people. It is suggested all four are suffering from fugue states until one of the doctors recognizes a name and verifies that he not only knew the girl but was there when she died in 1992. It soon becomes obvious that the bodies of the four patients are now inhabited by the souls of people long dead.
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*
This is a spoiler-free review.
I had very mixed feelings about Second Lives. I also feel like it is going to be a little on the tricky side to explain as there is a lot of jumping around between various storylines. It is not particularly challenging to follow when reading it by any means. But having such a variety of perspectives has made it hard for me to pin down all of my thoughts about the novel as a whole. This was incredibly different from what I had expected going in. It is a very character driven novel and focuses less on the sort of sci-fi aspects—the explanations for why these unbelievably strange events are occurring. And though I do like when the development of the characters takes the lead, it felt like there was a lot missing from the plot.
In this novel, we follow eight different people’s stories, which technically pares down to four after the first part of the book. To set up the story, we get a brief view of every main character’s background and how they get into the situations they end up in. Four of these characters have died at some point in the past and the other four, in the present, have fallen into comas or are in some way very near death. However, something extraordinary happens when each of these patients suddenly wakes up after they have been declared dead. But what seems like a miracle soon becomes a nightmare for their loved ones when it is determined that the souls of others who have passed away many years before have taken up residence in these four peoples’ bodies.
Of course, this is a very fictional story, so it does seem a bit silly to comment too much on the plausibility of what occurs. To some extent though, having some amount of believability is crucial in order to allow readers to connect with and become immersed in the narrative. For me personally, there is a huge absence of this here. It is not the idea of other’s souls inhabiting the bodies of the recently deceased—that is a completely common and very interesting theme in science fiction. My issue is with both the lack of focus on how these events occur, as well as the way the characters’ loved ones handle their unique situations.
The portrayal of the main characters is, for the most part, the strongest aspect of this novel. Nora was, by far, my favorite of the bunch. I connected with her immediately and her storyline felt the most realistic. Her actions throughout the narrative—particularly the difficult decisions she has to make—were the most understandable. She is the most fleshed out of all the characters and Cacek puts a lot of detail and time into forming her and her life. The main themes dealt with in Nora’s part are actually ones that I tend to avoid due to personal experiences that make it too painful to read about. However, this is one of the very few exceptions I have come across in my life and, though it was still incredibly emotional, I really did like how things were handled.
On the opposite side of this, the other three perspectives are less detailed and go in directions that are pretty unbelievable. I never felt like I could picture these people as clearly—it is hard to get a handle on their personalities and relationships with others. Because of this, I could not connect with any of them particularly well. The choices they make in the end are odd and, honestly, a few are a bit uncomfortable. One huge plus though is that Cacek does a wonderful job of making each person very distinct. Having so many separate perspectives can oftentimes lead to a lack of definition between the various voices and behaviors of the individual characters. She avoids this pitfall very well.
As far as the actual text itself, Cacek’s writing is very good. She is clearly a talented and imaginative writer. I think the biggest issue is that she just took on way too many topics in too short a novel. Under these circumstances, it is impossible to fully address and expand on the most important areas. A lot of problems might have been solved if she had stretched the narrative out a little more. Also, the science fiction aspect of it could have transformed into something clearer and very captivating instead of feeling like a loose end. Despite the issues I had with it though, this was still an interesting read overall, and I would recommend giving it a try.