Review: Stirring the Sheets by Chad Lutzke

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Stirring the Sheets
By Chad Lutzke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Grief does strange things. It changes people, and can sometimes ensnare them at their worst. When my mother died, my wife and I attempted to help my dad through that initial day of loss by picking out a set of clothes for her to be buried in. This act was not well received, and my dad set about berating my wife, calling her a grave-robber for rummaging through my mother's belonging, and reducing her to tears. My father was at his lowest point and lashed out at us in anger, and that's now how I remember my mother's passing.

For Emmett, he remembers the his wife by the final impression she left on their bedsheets, unchanged in the year since her passing and occasionally freshened by a spray of her perfume, and a shrine of photographs he's made of her around the couch where he now sleeps. Emmett, a mortician, is mostly biding his time, waiting for his own passing and unable to escape the loss of his partner of 50 years. When the funeral home he works for receives the body of a 30-year-old woman who completed suicide, he is shocked to see a beautiful young face that is the spitting image of his wife in her heyday. Locked in grief and yearning to reconnect with his wife, Emmett steals the corpse and takes her home. Grief does strange things to people, and it can compel them to act in ways they would not normally consider.

Stirring the Sheets is a short, poignant novella about loss and grief and the way in which the bereaved struggle to cope or, in some cases, fail to cope. It's about finding some outlet for that loss, regardless of the consequences.

Chad Lutzke's writing is strong, his authorial voice powerful. For so short a work, Emmett looms large, so well depicted is he in his state of self-imposed exile and sadness. We get an immediate sense for who he is as a man, and just how deep his love ran, and continues to run, for his wife. He's an intimately relatable Everyman. Through Emmett, Lutzke is able to exhibit a well-researched looked at the art of mortuary science and the roles of various staff within a family-owned funeral parlor. Throughout the work as a whole, grief is explored in sympathetic and understanding tones, and even when Emmett impulsively acts out, it's a behavior rooted firmly within the character and in response to his own struggles with the world around him.

Stirring the Sheets is an incredibly well-written and authentic portrayal of a man who believes he's lost everything, and yearns for one last chance. His singular act of desperation is not about sex (and for those who may be leery, Stirring the Sheets is not about necrophilia and in fact presents no real objectionable content at all), but about loss and the torment he carries with each waking day. This is an emotionally raw work, one that wears its heart on its sleeve, highly honest and earnest, and utterly relatable.

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Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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