T.J. Klune’s new novel, Under the Whispering Door, hit me right in the feels. This funny, beautiful, profound, slightly soppy story is just what I expect from the writer who gave us The House in the Cerulean Sea. It’s a sign of Klune’s brilliance that this book is so full of warm fuzzies considering that it’s about death and what comes after.
When we first meet him, protagonist Wallace Price is an asshole. He’s a workaholic lawyer who lives a life so efficient that it’s devoid of any hint of happiness. His sudden death from a heart attack doesn’t change anything. The hilarious roasting at his funeral doesn’t help his mood much either. Then a young woman who says she’s a reaper whisks him away to a ramshackle tea shop in the middle of nowhere and a man who calls himself a ferryman. Mei (the reaper) and Hugo (the ferryman) declare that they’re here to help Wallace transition from his new ghostly state to whatever lies in the afterlife. Wallace is having none of it.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s stages of grief are a frequent theme in Under the Whispering Door. Wallace bounces back and forth between denial, anger, and some brief moments of depression eventually give way to acceptance as Wallace sheds his identity as a Scrooge-like lawyer to become an actually alright kind of guy. More than that, Wallace appears to have found his soulmate in Hugo. Too bad Wallace is dead. This not-so-little fact provides a whopping dose of pathos. The two of them are so delightful together that I started hoping that they would find a way to be together, for real. The stages of grief come back with a fury when that little dilemma suddenly gets a deadline when Hugo and Mei’s boss shows up.
Under the Whispering Tree is as close to a perfect book as I’ve ever seen. There are action scenes and hilarious moments of ghostly shenanigans to leaven the long discussions Hugo and Wallace have about life, happiness, regret, their jobs, the afterlife, mistakes, and so much more. Readers with a more traditional view of the afterlife might not enjoy this book as much as readers who are more flexible about what might happen after death. Religion is conspicuously absent from this book and I loved that Klune offers such a wide-open possibility for what happens after we shuffle off our mortal coils. And I especially love that the possibility might include a cup of tea that always tastes like home.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.
Notes for Bibliotherapeutic Use: Recommend to readers who are grieving.