M.J. Rose got her start in the world of fiction by self-publishing Lip Service, an intelligent erotic novel. It was successful enough to be picked up by a major New York publisher, and she has since published a double handful of novels. With The Reincarnationist, Rose moves away from the erotic, toward mystery and suspense.
The Reincarnationist is what I call a “big book” and not because it’s nearly 500 pages long. It’s big in scope, ranging in locale from Rome, to New York City, to Utah, and back to New England. It’s big in concept, too, raising questions about who we are and who we’ve been. And in the end it’s a good read with a nail-biting conclusion.
Rose’s book takes some concentration to follow, interweaving stories from three time-lines and several point-of-view characters. Unfortunately I made the mistake of reading the first half of the book in the evening before going to bed, when I wasn’t at my best. I shifted to reading in the morning after that and found the book even better when I was awake :-).
There were times when I thought there was a bit more summarizing of the action than there should have been, but I suspect Rose’s editor may have said, “M.J. you’ve got to get it below 500 pages!” I also felt that at times the historical segments were more emotionally vivid than what was taking place in the present.
One of the things I like best about this book is that it’s more than just a mystery or an adventure. Given that the entire book revolves around reincarnation, it raises all sorts of interesting questions about the afterlife, but it doesn’t bog down trying to answer metaphysical questions. However, Rose does slip some wise thoughts into the heads of her characters that are worth contemplating.
At one point a young woman in love observes, How different a man becomes when he’s accomplished what he set out to do. It made me think about people I’ve known who have been frustrated in their pursuits, and then acheived success, and how their behavior changed. It makes me more aware of how important our goals are to our happiness, but also how easy it is to let the acheiving of those goals overshadow other parts of our lives.
At another point the main character remembers something his dying father told him : “When you look into the eyes of someone you’re photographing, and glimpse a terrible suffering, don’t turn away. . . . It’s a gift to see into the depths of grief, because only when you realize that someone can be in that much pain and still function, speak civilly, shake your hand and tell you how nice it is to meet you, do you understand why it is that you can never give in or give up. There’s always another chance, another day. That’s the miracle of the human spirit. Take on the pain, Josh. Give it its due. That’s the only way to beat it.”
I’ve known three people who have committed suicide, and I couldn’t help thinking of them when I read these words. One was very ill. The other two, well, I won’t speculate about what they were thinking. But it was good to read these words of Rose’s, and I’m glad she put them out into the world.