Sunday, September 23, 2012

Review: Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel

When you lose a loved one, you don't just lose their physical presence, you lose the knowledge that they are alive somewhere in the world, accessible by phone or computer. You lose the fact that they are there for you in large and small ways. And although they are always in your heart, it's not the same thing. How many times have you heard (or said yourself) that you wished you could just talk to your loved one just one more time? What if you could do just that, not in reality but in a virtual reality sort of way that would mimic your relationship before their died? Would you do it? Would it be too macabre or would you welcome the chance? Laurie Frankel's novel Goodbye for Now offers up this very question and the unsettling implications of such a possibility.

Sam is a computer programmer who works for an online dating service. When he creates an agorithm that actually works, pairing people with their perfect match, he uses himself as a test case and meets Meredith, the woman who is in fact his soul mate. But his discovery would lose the dating service business so they bury his program and fire Sam. Meanwhile, Meredith's beloved grandmother dies and this woman who quickly became the center of Sam's world is sunk in her grieving, wanting nothing more than to be able to talk to Livvie one more time. Sam, with nothing but time on his hands, decides to try and create a program that will allow Meredith the illusion of doing just that. He collects all of Livvie's e-mails, video chats, and online life together and fashions a program that uses her own words and images to simulate the sort of conversation she and Meredith used to have over the internet when she was still alive. Meredith is delighted with the program and she helps to convince Sam that others will benefit from this same service. So their own business, named RePose, is born.

As Repose takes off, Sam works through the bugs and Meredith and their friend Dash handle the publicity and the moral implications of giving hurt and grieving people the chance to talk to their deceased loved ones again and again and again. And the moral implications are many and varied. But they make friends with quite a few of the program users, coming to know them, their particular heartbreak, and the gaping hole that exists in each of their lives and that RePose hopes to help fill. But then the unthinkable happens and despite the fact that Sam and Meredith are soul mates who have only just found each other, terrible, senseless tragedy strikes. And RePose becomes more important and all-consuming than ever. RePose was never marketed or meant to be reality for the grief-stricken users, just to offer an approximation, but it becomes absolutely everything, an addiction and a crutch, a way to avoid facing unbearable loss.

This novel is an intriguing look at the unpredictability of loss and the differing ways in which people work through grief. It is also a lovely examination of love and letting go, the ways in which those who touch our lives have enriched us and continue to do so even after they are gone. As might be expected of a novel centered around death and triumphing over it, even in just a small way, there are numerous extremely emotional scenes and passages that will leave readers reaching for tissues. Sam and Meredith as main characters are sweet and as Sam's original dating algorithm promises, perfect for each other. Their love and care of each other is well described and the reader roots for them to make a go of RePose. By allowing the reader to see the secondary characters' relationships with their deceased loved ones, they are remarkably well defined and provided with just enough back story to be interesting to read about. The novel as a whole is heartbreaking but beautiful and will certainly make you think about how far you'd go to "see" and "talk" to your loved ones after their death, whether the ability to recreate a virtual reality loved one with characteristics almost indistinguishable from the living person is a positive or a negative, the path that grief sends us all down at one time or another, and how, in the end, to go on living after a terrible loss

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

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