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Lying with the Dead    by Michael Mewshaw order for
Lying with the Dead
by Michael Mewshaw
Order:  USA  Can
Other Press, 2009 (2009)

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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Talk about disfunctional families. In Lying with the Dead, author Michael Mewshaw has created one filled with disparate characters, each with their own agenda.

It is easy to see why Maury, suffering from Aspergers, never seems able to move on in his life. It's all he can do to hold onto his daily existence. Quinn, supposedly the golden boy in his mother's eye, lives in London pursuing a successful acting career. One can see why he doesn't want to ever come home to Maryland. Candy, the dutiful daughter, has remained at home to care for her alcoholic and extremely self-centered mother, and resents every minute of it. She has found a chance at fifty-five for love and romance but Mama stands in the way.

A family tragedy that happened years before sets the tone for the rest of the family members' lives. The children's father was murdered when Maury was eleven. He went to prison for twelve years for the murder. Fortunately, he had someone in jail to protect him, so he came out not too terribly damaged. For all the beatings and maltreatment suffered at the hands of their mother (I suspect bipolarism), these three children take responsibility for her care and shoulder the burden of dealing with a totally irrational woman.

What shines in this dark tale of abuse is the characters of the players. The author allows the reader into each of the adult children's minds. What motivates them. How they suffered. What they felt growing up. Why would Candy stay at home when she clearly felt her life was slipping away? How Maury realized, even in his fragile state, that he must move on if he was to survive. How Quinn salved his conscience by sending his mother money each month.

Lying with the Dead is written with grace and deep feeling, portraying this family who seemed doomed from the beginning. How they survived at all remains a mystery only Michael Mewshaw can recount and make credible. And he has done it well. Humor is not bypassed and the shocking ending will probably strike you as it did me - out of left field. I found it very difficult to put this book down.

Mewshaw is also the author of Year of the Gun and Shelter from the Storm as well as eight other novels and several non-fiction works. I have made a note to seek out his other books. I would like to read more by this fine author.

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