This isn’t unheard of in romantic fiction. And to prove it, I’ve compiled a list of memorable stories that contain an undead character, and not in the I’m-a-Zombie kind of way. Let’s start with the inspiration for this column, shall we?
Alex is the youngest Nolan, a harder, angrier, meaner specimen than his brothers Mark (Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor ) and Sam (Rainshadow Road .) He’s got a cold-as-ice ex-wife who is trying to kick him out of their former home (all while still wanting to sleep with him) and a business that’s collapsed thanks to the economy. Alex drinks too much and loves too little. And he’s being haunted.
The Ghost has few memories and no understanding of why he’s attached to Alex. But in his entire after-life, Alex is the only living person who has seen him. Or heard him. Suddenly the Ghost, a vaporous observer of the Nolan clan, has access to information: Alex can research his background, and find a way to release themselves from this peculiar connection. But Alex isn’t the sort to help anybody. He’s drunk half the time and hungover the rest. He is surly to his brothers and downright unfriendly to Zoe Hoffman, the one woman in town who heats his blood and whose kindess hints at a better life for Alex. The Ghost recognizes, in Alex’s refusal to let love in, a kinship. The Ghost, during his life, hurt someone he loved.
Dream Lake is as much about Zoe’s warmth melting away Alex’s resolve as it about the redemptive power of friendship. In Alex, Kleypas created a character who won’t listen to anyone’s advice, but the Ghost can’t be denied or shut out. Alex is haunted by him day and night. The Ghost’s words have to be heard. And because of this relentless affection, this constant guidance, Alex saves himself from the brink of permanent bitterness. And the Ghost figures out how to makes amends too.
Dream Lake reminded me of a different Kleypas ghost story, that of poor, tortured Leo Hathaway. Leo is the de facto head of his family, since his siblings are all girls. He’s funny and smart and uncomfortable with his responsibilities in the best of times. But when we meet Leo in Mine Till Midnight (Hathaway Series #1), he’s a man in ruin. Spending his time with thieves and gamblers, perpetually in the bottom of a bottle, Leo’s running from his grief and from a demanding, sapping spirit who won't let him go. Whereas Alex Nolan has been ground into diamond-hardness by his unhappy upbringing, Leo was, once, a loving, happy man. And then his fiancée Laura died. Leo's pain keeps Laura's soul from moving on, and his salvation comes from his family's help. By the time he’s sparring with Cat Marks in Married by Morning (Hathaway Series #5), you can’t help but root for Leo to find happiness, knowing how difficult it was for him to break free from his tragic love.
What you’ll learn from Rachel Gibson’s Not Another Bad Date is this: you can take the cheerleader out of Texas, but you can’t take the Texas out of the cheerleader, even when you get to Heaven. Devon Hamilton-Zemaitis is more of angel than a ghost, but she’s still got to right some earthly wrongs if she wants to stay on in that Great Mall in the Sky. Back in high school, Devon may have inadvertently or not so inadvertently cursed a girl named Adele Harris to a life of singlehood, right after she stole Adele’s boyfriend. From her perch on high, Devon’s got to fix it, even if it means using her supernatural influence to hook Adele up with Devon’s newly widowed husband, Zack.
Finally, if it’s Jennifer Crusie, you can’t go wrong, and Maybe This Time has more ghosts than you can shake a stick at, and they’re territorial too. When Andie Miller begrudgingly agrees to help her ex-husband, she gets more than she bargained for. North has become guardian to two little hellions that possibly only a mother could love, and the house that comes with them is most definitely haunted. And that’s just the beginning for poor Andie as she juggles paranormal experts, creepy housekeepers, and a very jealous boyfriend.
So if you like your ghosts friendly, or at the very least, a part of the modern, non-paranormal world we live in, try the above books. And please tell me:
Who's your favorite ghostly character?
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