I’m smitten with Luke and his story. So swept up in it, so captivated, I dropped everything else in my Kindle queue, failed to write a second review of the month for Perihelion Science Fiction and barely made the deadline for the first review. Luke is so compelling, I’d put my life on hold to hear just a few sentences from him every once in a while, which is sort of what Tania does in this paranormal-ish novel, “Talking to Luke.”
The voice of Luke is like no other. Not since Daniel Day Lewis brought Honest Abe to life in the 2012 movie Lincoln have I heard so much thoughtfulness and eloquence. Lewis says he found the voice of Lincoln, “almost as if being drawn into the orbit of another life; almost a physical sensation.”
Wherever the voice of Luke came from, Diane Ryan has channeled it to good effect.
“My fate has been fortuitous,” Luke tells us. “I survived this mockery of war, this blight on a nation where I saw the ground saturated with Rebel blood.”
Lest anyone suggest that a real life 22-year-old soldier wouldn’t sound so formal and eloquent, try what Diane Ryan did: reading letters written by Civil War soldiers.
She’s captured a time, a place, a voice we rarely hear.
Private Joshua S. Mason, who had four inches of his humerus, or upper arm bone, removed http://www.dailymail.co.uk
I’d never come across Civil War photos of shirtless men with battle-weary eyes and tousled hair, but Diane Ryan did. And boy, does she know how to deploy these images in her prose. Not just Luke’s voice, but his face and eyes and whole person haunt us. Having devoured sepia photos from the Old West, I know what it’s like to stare into the eyes of a long-ago face and dream of meeting that person in the flesh. Talking to Luke pulls us right into that dream-come-true.
Tania, like Luke, is 22. She’s smart, friendly, attractive–an overtly (not overly; overtly) normal college senior–but when it comes to boyfriends, she has better luck in dusty mausoleums, listening for voices from the crypt. One of her electives is research in Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP). Sometimes the equipment registers a crazy amount of electromagnetic disturbances which coincide with other signs of a ghostly presence.
Tania discovers she is a natural for attracting the attention of those who haven’t moved on yet to the other side. All her life she’s had a peculiar sensitivity to electrical activity, but ghost hunting ratchets it up to something unbelievable.
“By degrees, the air developed a charge. Her body tingled, and the fine hair at the nape of her neck stood on end. A lot like–no, exactly like–she’d come in contact with a mild electric current.”
When a Civil War soldier speaks to her without the techno-gadgets, Tania knows she’s achieved the Holy Grail of researchers everywhere. Even her professor and mentor, Evelyn, is eclipsed by a novice, which is one reason Tania keeps Luke a secret.
Every character, however major or minor, comes to life as if you’d walked into their hometown. Lily and Chris – she’d tackle a grizzly bear to defend a friend, and she puts up with Chris’s ADHD and assorted annoying habits. Phillip. Ohhh, Phillip. I’ve met you before. Tania’s parents are so likable, who can blame her for moving back home after college? And Evelyn – just when you expect her to flip out because her student upstages her in paranormal research, the author pulls back – ha! – and doesn’t deliver some contrived conflict with a jealous boss. No need to. The conflicts with Luke are so intense, neither Tania nor the reader could handle much else.
There’s a maddening subplot with Tania realizing she has no future with a ghost, so she allows herself to fall for the advances of the local bad boy. Luke has ways to show his disapproval, forcing Tania, ultimately, to find a scientific way to banish Luke from her life.
Just try not to laugh about the “Pest Control” scene. I dare you.
Diane Ryan can find humor in the darkest hours of human existence. She also flips a trope like nobody’s business. We can laugh when a dead woman mutters “spider webs” yet cry over a single, simple word, “braids.”
Evelyn warns Tania not to interact with ghosts, and Luke himself tells her how dangerous it can be. The more she sees or hears of him, the more things blow up or catch fire. X-Ray machines malfunction (nope, not telling you who ends up in the hospital or why). Photos are ruined by inexplicable glare or flukes of lighting when Tania’s ghosts are in the picture.
Luke’s knife-edge of satire, his sense of timing, and his capacity for mischief leave readers begging for more. This guy has been around for parts of two centuries and a new millennium. Ghosts tend to blink in and out, with long gaps in between, and lots of questions that haven’t been answered or they’d have moved on by now. Luke has been eavesdropping in a classroom and picking up contemporary slang while staying close to the site of his death.
Escapism is what I want from fiction, and this novel is a great trip away from every-day life. Talking to Luke is unconfined by genre. There’s snappy dialogue, ghost hunters as intrepid as tornado chasers, smart women, foolish choices, and men who can be selfish bastards even though they’re really not evil. Call it romance-ish, paranormal-ish, historical, contemporary, funny, fantastic, science-ish, but above all, call it great.
One of the perks to buying “Talking to Luke” is that proceeds benefit an animal rescue in Virginia. On her Facebook page, Diane Ryan tells us The Kobi in “Talking To Luke” is “based on a very real dog named Kobi, who was found in the middlle of winter (2013) dragging a logging chain through the snow. My husband and I followed him for miles, until finally my husband drove our Blazer’s front tire over the chain and Kobi couldn’t run any more.” Kobi, in real life as in the novel, “was skin and bones, terrified of everything that moved, and in the company of another, much more aggressive dog who bullied him relentlessly. There was some reason to believe, based on the way the chain was bolted around his neck, that the two dogs had actually been chained together for some length of time. In Virginia, this constitutes cruelty, and had an owner ever been discovered, they quite possibly would have been charged with a crime. Kobi was adopted to a wonderful woman who loves him dearly. Today, Kobi lives in New Hampshire, the first state in the U.S. to achieve state-wide no kill status.”
I can attest that the author of this novel spends her last dime on dog food and risked her marriage to shelter 20 to 40 dogs at a time to spare them from the kill shelter. In the past three years she has put her writing on hold and dedicated all her energy and resources to saving the lives of creatures other people irresponsibly cast aside. Am I mad enough about this to blow up like Tania’s lamps and light fixtures? Yes. But at last, we have “Talking to Luke,” and more novels to come from Diane Ryan, who is one of the most polished writers I have read in recent times, and the most high-impact.
For only $3, and for the sake of lost, orphaned, abused, but lovable furry animal companions, this is a must-have book.