“I have been half in love with easeful death,” wrote John Keats, and the same may be true of Sid, the protagonist of Postcards from a Dead Girl by Kirk Farber. Taking on such heavy topics as love, death, guilt, paranoia, and depression, Farber gifts the reader with a story that seems as light as a puff of air, as silly as a dream, and as resonant as a box canyon.
Poor Sid. He’s a nice enough guy, working great hours in a crummy job — selling vacation and cruise packages over the phone. That’s right, he’s a telemarketer. That alone should make us unsympathetic to his plight, but as he tells his story we can’t help being drawn in and sympathetic. Sid is getting postcards from a girl who may be dead; we’re not quite sure if she’s literally dead or traveling the world, until the last few chapters. Sid saves the postcards and amasses a large collection. The haunting thing about the cards is that the postmarks are a year old. Were that not enough, his deceased mother is also talking to him via a very old bottle of Bordeaux.
Is Sid nuts? Is he sending the cards himself, or is the bratty little girl across the street somehow involved? What is Sid afraid of? We further question Sid’s mental state when he goes to the automated carwash and repeatedly rides through, enjoying the whole process of pink soap bubbles and blow dryers, maybe a little too much. When Sid discovers mud baths at a spa, he becomes obsessed with them, replacing his carwash obsession with sinking in a comforting tub of warm mud.
Sid has a number of problems, besides communications from the dead, and they are more familiar. He lives in a nice house that had been his childhood home and is too full of memories. Lucky for him, the mortgage is long paid off. His cell-phone reception is horrible and his house is in a “dead zone.” He is sinking deeper into debt as he uses the multitude of credit cards that he has collected, but cannot pay. The debt is escalating thanks to his obsessive car-washing and mud-bathing. He is having a hard time recovering from a failed love affair, the one that may have been the “love of his life.” He is confused and sometimes feels powerless. In the meantime, the postcards keep coming.
We also learn that Sid is quite self-defeating. He does not allow himself to enjoy good things in his life because he pictures them coming to a tragic end. Sid isn’t suicidal; he just doesn’t want to live anymore. When he has a CAT scan, we sense that he’s hoping he has a brain tumor or some other life-threatening disorder. Something is keeping Sid from participating in his own life, and from building a future; he doesn’t think he deserves to be happy.
This may sound dark and dour. It’s not. Sid self-deprecatingly tells his story as we accompany him on his journey to understanding. Postcards from a Dead Girl is alive with colorful and sometimes surprising characters. There are many funny scenes, and it is very well written.
Sometimes I ask myself, “Why do I bother reading?” It’s not the bad books that wear me down; I very seldom read a book that is just awful. It’s the never-ending onslaught of mediocrity, the books that could have been so much better “if only,” and the books that no one thought were worth a thorough proofreading or editing. When I began reading Postcards from a Dead Girl, I thought “this is why I read.” Kirk Farber is a gifted story-teller. He leads us down a dark path, then lets us see the sunlight. Told with familiarity, the story feels right from beginning to end. Readers may suspect what’s coming, but the denouement makes us feel more “aaaah,” then “aha.” Since this is Farber’s first novel, we look forward (as Sid must) to what is to come.
Bottom Line: Would I buy Postcards from a Dead Girl? Absolutely.