I Thought You Were Dead

Pete Nelson, Author
Pete Nelson, Author . Algonquin $23.95 (264p) ISBN 978-1-56512-597-1
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The smartest character in Nelson's latest is, unfortunately, Stella, a dog who speaks to her master, the sad, divorced, and listless writer Paul, often commenting on his lack of drive and the hours he logs at the local dive (“Do you realize you're only slightly less routinized than a cat?”). But when Paul's dad, a former Minneapolis teacher of the year, has a stroke, Paul heads home to deal with his family and his demons, leaving behind the elderly Stella and his noncommittal girlfriend, Tamsen. Paul's two worlds never meet, though his overachieving brother, Carl, and married-with-children sister, Bits, inflict their share of damage. Everything changes, though, when Paul's father begins using an instant messaging program to communicate, and after Paul unloads to his dad about his problems, his dad (literally) spells out the answer: quit drinking. Paul takes the advice, and his sobriety ends up being a cure-all. This unfortunately pat twist undermines the work Nelson put into the earlier parts of the book, and what's supposed to be a feel-good ending comes across as cheap. The characters—Stella especially—deserve better. (Apr.)

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