In one word: lovely
I first read T.J. Klune last year when I came across the heartwarming, lovely, funny, romantic queer fantasy “House in the Cerulean Sea.” It was one of my top 3 best books of last year, so my expectations for this book were high: astronomical even. I am delighted to report that I equally loved the heartwarming, lovely, funny, romantic, queer fantasy “Under the Whispering Door.” If that pile of adjectives gets you jazzed, run, don’t walk to your nearest library or bookmonger and get one or both of these books.
Note: this book will make you smile, you will maybe even chuckle. You will tear up, you might wail a little while sitting next to your husband, between sobs saying, “it’s just such a good (sob) book (sob).” I am not typically a crier/reader. I usually am reading thinking “ah yes, that is sad” but I maintain a barrier for literary fiction where the story does not emotionally impact me, a real person. But Klune is a true master of ever so gently pulling on those heartstrings. Plus, this book is centered on death and the afterlife, which for me are subjects that create anxiety but he delivers a beautiful story that will leave you feeling at peace.
Wallace Price is a wildly successful attorney with a bitter ex-wife, and not much else to show for his pursuits, but he is pleased to live for work and go through life as a fairly self-unaware asshole. (He’s a bit of Scrooge, act one, before being visited by the three ghosts). When he dies suddenly and is met by his reaper Mei, he does not immediately buy the biggest goose and sing a diddy with Kermit and Tiny (Frog) Tim a la Muppet Christmas Carol. Instead, he doubles down on being a complete jerk while begrudgingly acknowledging his new status as a ghost, in the in-between while he awaits “what comes next.”
He has a ferryman to help him on his journey, Hugo the tea shop owner, who treats Wallace with the kindness and patience he never exhibited while alive. Wallace is forced to begin to understand himself, and reckon with who he was, and who he’d like to be with whatever time he has left. Rounding out the cast of main characters are Hugo’s cantankerous grandad and faithful pooch, who also are in the in-between. All of these characters are living together under one dysfunctional roof.
This is a story of heartache and possibility, as Klune has posited an interesting “what if” regarding the afterlife. I saw that he lost his partner in 2016, so it would seem this book is his way of working through some of that grief. He has created a beautiful love letter to anyone who wrestles with understanding what we are doing hurtling around space on this big rock and I would recommend it to anyone looking for literary catharsis.