The grave's a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace
- Andrew Marvell.
"To His Coy Mistress"
I didn’t want to miss another Forgotten Books Friday and I’m not sure if this book has ever been forgotten, but I do think it warrants rediscovery.
It came to me circa 1973 when I was about twelve. My uncle’s first wife had just started teaching high school English. I worshipped her because she was young and hip -- much cooler than my other older relatives. I loved her even more because she identified with my love of books and she fed it.
I haven’t read the book in a long time, but I have no doubt it stands the test of time. If I’m not mistaken, it hasn’t been out of print since it was published.
Jonathan Rebeck walked into a New York City cemetery nearly twenty years ago and has been living there in a mausoleum ever since. A potty-mouthed raven steals food and brings it to him, along with other trinkets he finds. It’s not that the raven is especially fond of Rebeck; that’s just what ravens do. Rebeck sees and communicates with the dead, acts as a mentor to them and like them, he can’t leave the cemetery.
Michael and Laura are ghosts who meet and fall in love after death. The dead don’t disappear until their interest in the living fades along with their memories and interest in hanging around.
Enter Mrs. Klapper, a Jewish widow who visits the grave of her husband every day until a chance encounter with Rebeck. Then she begins to go to the cemetery to visit him.
That’s as far into the story as I think I should go.
Since I first read this book, I’ve never been without a copy. It’s fantasy, it’s romance, it’s all the things I say I don’t read and I love it. This story has stayed with me for more than thirty years.