‘Ordinary Man’ offers complex, otherworldly story
Fifteen years ago, when my mother-in-law died, my nephew, who was about 4 years old at the time, told me that he saw Grandma fly upstairs to heaven. All these years later, I get a little teary when I think that he saw something I missed.People always figure that when you die, you get to know all the things you didn’t know before, but in the new novel, “Death of an Ordinary Man” by Glen Duncan (c.2004, Black Cat, Grove / Atlantic, Inc.) the truth is not so easily learned.Nathan Clark has just died, and he awakens to find that he’s hovering above his mourning family at his funeral. There’s Cheryl, his wife, who doesn’t seem very saddened by his passing, and his best friend, Adrian, who’s trying to comfort her. Nathan’s son, Luke is there, along with 17-year-old Gina, and Frank, Nathan’s dad. There are two strangers in attendance; they seem vaguely familiar which makes Nathan feel unsettled. But where is Lois, Nathan’s youngest daughter?The first thing Nathan learns, after he figures out that he’s dead, is that he can hear what people are thinking. He begins to notice things that he never noticed before. Take Adrian, for instance. Adrian was always joking with Nathan about being in love with Cheryl, telling Nathan that he fancied her himself, teasingly begging Nathan for just one night with Cheryl. Now Nathan knows that Adrian slept with Cheryl, but the relationship was quite one-sided.Cheryl seems very angry that Nathan is dead, and he wonders if she really loved him. Cheryl always had the upper hand in their marriage; she was the one with the money and she made most of the decisions. Nathan loved Cheryl completely. Why is she so businesslike in her grief?As Nathan follows his family around, watching them mourn while trying to make sense of his own death, he remembers all the things that happened in his life and theirs. Then he remembers a murder could it have been his? Who are those two people, the blonde and the short man who were at his funeral? And why wasn’t Lois there?I have to admit, this was a hard book to read. Author Duncan’s tale is rather haphazard, with layers of partially-told story piled quickly atop the last nearly incomplete plot line. Several times, I wondered if something in the story had really occurred, or if Nathan “heard” someone pondering something. Obviously, many parts of this book didn’t make a whole lot of sense. One could argue that people recall memories randomly and the dead wouldn’t be any different, but the lack of cohesiveness and linear writing made this book difficult to follow. Yes, the ending surprised me, but getting there was not much fun.”Death of an Ordinary Man” is like an onion the story is made of many layers that you peel off, one at a time. Unfortunately, the confusion in the plot is going to make you want to cry. VT
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