I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Secret Life of Souls by Jack Ketchum, Lucky McKee
Published by Pegasus Books on November 8 2016
Genres: Adult, Thriller
Format: Finished hardcover
Buy on Amazon
The nitty-gritty: A strange, sometimes violent and unexpectedly emotional thriller about a family unable to cope with tragedy.
I have to admit the blurb on the dust jacket of this book initially grabbed my attention because a) it’s by Stephen King and b) he mentions one of my favorite books EVER—The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. I also have to admit I’ve never read a Jack Ketchum book before, and even though I own one of his most well-known novels, Off Season, I’ve never read it (frankly, I’m a little scared. I hear it’s very hard-core.) So I was anxious to see if the story lived up to the blurb, and I’m happy to say that it did, but not in the ways I was expecting. From the cover, one expects this to be a contemporary, feel-good story about a girl and her dog. But don’t let that cover fool you. The Secret Life of Souls was unexpectedly dark and violent. It’s a drama about a happy-on-the-outside family who is slowly imploding, and the slow slide from happiness to misery is inevitable and there is nothing you can do to stop it.
Delia Cross is a child actor, and at eleven years old, she’s on the brink of real stardom. She lives with her mother Pat, father Bart and twin brother Robbie, but her most beloved friend in the world is Caity, her two-year-old Queensland Heeler. Delia’s days are filled with tutors, auditions and dance lessons, but when she’s not working hard to keep her family living in style, Delia spends her free time with Caity. Pat pours all of her own unrealized dreams of being an actress into her daughter’s budding career, and Bart is quite happy to spend Delia’s income on big screen TVs and shiny new cars.
But on the very day the family is told that Delia has just scored a leading role on a TV sitcom, a terrible accident leaves Delia and Caity in mortal danger. As the family tries to recover from the tragedy, both emotionally and financially, it becomes clear how fragile each family member has become. And even though new opportunities present themselves to the shell-shocked Cross family, it’s only a matter of time before someone cracks under the strain.
Wow, this book. It completely caught me by surprise. It starts out with no real hint of what’s to come, a story about a girl who is more or less being pushed into an acting career that she may or may not want, pushed by parents who have grown used to living off their cash cow actress daughter and have no intention of giving up that lifestyle. Brother Robbie is an introvert who stays in his room most of the time, playing video games. He’s been overshadowed by his sister his entire life, but he’s pretty good-natured about the whole thing. And the glue that holds the family together is a very special dog named Caity, who has bonded with Delia as a puppy and now refuses to let her out of her sight. The story is told from multiple points of view, including that of Caity, and so the reader gets a peek into the mind of a dog, what’s going through her head, the smells and sounds that occupy her thoughts, even how she feels about each of her “pack” members. This POV is important later in the story after the accident, when Caity’s bond with Delia becomes stronger than ever.
So the story starts on this upbeat, positive note, where we get to meet the Cross family, who seem more or less normal. But then. Things take a very dark turn, and an accident occurs that demolishes Delia’s acting career, and the family begins a downward spiral that ends in shocking violence. I won’t spoil the story for you by giving away any more details than that, but let’s just say that even though I could sense that events were going to take a turn for the worse, I did not expect things to go bad as quickly as they did. We have hints that Pat and Bart aren’t your normal, supportive and nurturing parents—they are both teetering on the brink of alcoholism, for one thing—but after the accident, their true personalities emerge, especially Pat’s. The authors could have made this a much longer story, but I appreciate the fact that it’s just long enough—short, sharp and surprisingly brutal, with characters who aren’t easily pigeonholed as being “good” or “bad.”
The only negative for me was some over-the-top action in the last quarter of the book, which some readers may feel is too much. I also had some issues with the fact that Delia’s parents are spending all her money. I know that children are usually legally protected from this sort of thing, but I guess for the sake of the story the authors have given us a family who has been able to take those clauses out of Delia’s contracts. The fact that they are taking advantage of her talent just makes them all the more horrible to me.
And because I’m a dog person, I especially loved the moments we got to spend in Caity’s head. Caity is fiercely loyal and protective, and while those qualities make her a wonderful pet and family member, like all dogs she has a wild streak when it comes to protecting those she loves (and I have to mention that certain parts of the story reminded me of Stephen King’s Cujo). A mild trigger warning for animal lovers: yes, there are some scenes that will make you cringe, but trust me when I say there is light at the end of the tunnel. There are also a few truly magical moments between Caity and some fox cubs that nearly brought tears to my eyes. And the ending! The story has an understated speculative element to it, which really comes into play at the end. I was not prepared for that ending, or the emotions I felt while reading it.
Ketchum and McKee have penned an entertaining and emotional story that kept me on the edge of my seat, and in the end, made me think about the power of love and the wonderful—and sometimes mystical—connection between humans and animals.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.