So, I might have spotted a theme in my audiobook listening: talking animals. When I heard that Pet Nelson’s I Thought You Were Dead featured a talking dog, I was sold, thinking it would be similar to The Art of Racing in the Rain, which I loved. Although these make for wonderful read alikes, they are ultimately different and touch on different topics (though, I’ll say this up front: the dog will inevitably die and I, as a listener, may have cried more than once while listening).
Paul Gustavson divorced a few years ago and his inadequacies linger in the back of his mind when he is engaged in a relationship with Tamsen. But his relationship with her is not exclusive: she is also seeing another man, an arrangement that all three parties are okay with. Paul’s not wild about diving into the dating pool whole heartedly and he’s not quite sure how much he feels for Tamsen yet.
Meanwhile, Paul’s father has a horrible stroke, and Paul must travel back to his family’s home just outside Minneapolis (he’s in the northeast). Paul blames himself for the stroke, too, believing that because he didn’t get back to his father about the ideal snow blower that the stress his father exerted in shoveling the snow caused the stroke. He cannot win and lives in a state of beating himself up over everything in his life that is not entirely of his control.
Stella is Paul’s golden, well on in her years. has seen him at his best and at his worst. She’s his best friend, and he dotes on her. Although she’s the voice behind some of his decisions, particularly when it comes to Tamsen, she is more of a reflection of Paul himself: we see through her Paul’s growth and realization of self throughout the novel. She’s well used and not overused, as she doesn’t have a particularly large role in the story. But simultaneously, she is the story.
Over the course of the book, we will see more than one relationship end, and we will see the blossoming of other relationships. There are some weighty themes introduced in the story, stemming from family history. I literally found myself at points laughing and at other points crying. Listening to this book took a while for me, simply because I didn’t want to spend my morning drive in the car getting misty-eyed.
I Thought You Were Dead is a story about relationships, both those you make yourself and those that are made for you. Moreover, it’s a story of one’s relationship with oneself. I found Paul to be a really likeable guy, despite some of the things he did and decisions he made. Paul has a big issue underlying a lot of what has happened in his life, and he is ultra competitive with his rich, perfect brother. Throughout the story, I found myself pulling for Paul endlessly.
The story unravels slowly at first, as each character is well-fleshed; however, once the story reaches the end (discs 5 and 6, the last two), it felt a bit rushed. I wish Nelson had spent a little more time with his characters and how their stories came back together. Paul’s father drops a bombshell that explained a lot of Paul’s life and I wish more clues could have been dropped earlier on.
That said, I thought Stella served a good purpose, and I quite liked Tamsen as a character, despite not seeing her too much. She wasn’t afraid to tell Paul to get himself together, and she was patient and loving with him, even though he had what he believed to be a Major Issue that impacted all of his intimate relationships.
I owe thanks to Josh Clark, the narrator of this audio, for making me care about Paul. Clark’s reading had an innocent undertone to it, and I was immediately interested in Paul and why he acted as he did. Although I’m not generally a fan of male renditions of females, I liked his husky rendition for Tamsen and I thought he did a good job of portraying Stella. His voice was pleasant to listen to; I don’t know if I would have made it through this sort of story if I had read it on the page. Instead, Clark got me engaged. You can hear a clip of his reading here. His even and steady tone worked.
While I Thought You Were Dead will not be everyone’s cup of tea, I thought it was one of the better adult fiction titles I’ve read lately. It will make an excellent read alike to The Art of Racing in the Rain, minus the philosophical dog. Stella’s a little blue collar, if you will, but the story of relationships and how we live among one another will resonate with readers.