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Melissa Marr
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2011

William Morrow / HarperCollins
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-061-82687-0
Publication Date: 05-17-2011
326 Pages ; $22.99
Date Reviewed: 06-27-2011

Index:  Horror  Fantasy  General Fiction

Death rituals are personal. In good times, we tend to the dead individually, and we reflect upon their life as well as their death. Even dead, our loved ones are still loved. That is, so long as they stay dead.

Generally, that's not a problem. But in Claysville, the dead seem to get more than their fair share of attention. William Montgomery runs the local mortuary, and he's teaching the very particular particulars to his son, Byron. But the real responsibility lies with the women of the Barrow family. Maylene, whose adopted daughter Rebekkah has left town, is getting on, though she's still strong. But not strong enough.

Melissa Marr's 'Graveminder' draws on myths from all corners of the world and brings them organically together in a low-key American Gothic setting. For a novel that is filled with all the buzzwords of modern pop fiction, Marr goes to some length to successfully underplay those elements and give readers an inventive and entertaining novel of destiny, love and death — though not necessarily in that order.

Maylene may manage to go gently into that good night, but what remains afterwards suggests that others in the small town of Claysville will not. Rebekkah reluctantly returns to bury her dead, and finds herself tasked with others as well. There's a ritual that needs must be adhered to in this neck of the woods, involving food, drink and farewell. Maylene always meant to pass on her talents to Rebekkah, but she never had the chance. Rebekkah's not-so-long-lost love affair with Byron still stings, but they must work together. And as strange as Claysville may be, there are places far stranger and closer than one may suspect.

Marr does a wonderful job of building a both characters and worlds in 'Graveminder.' There's a pretty complicated family setup here that Marr unfolds gently and with great skill. Rebekkah has tried to be the outsider and failed, as has Byron. The reasons for this become clear to the reader before they do to the characters, but Marr does a nice job of pacing revelations for both. In lesser hands, this could devolve into the stuff of raised-foil-cover paperbacks, but Marr adds enough grit and detail to keep the characters sympathetic and entertaining. There's a large cast of secondary characters who prove to be both important and well rounded.

The supernatural underpinnings of the book are varied and combined in an inventive, original manner. Marr works on a lot of levels, from folkloric rituals to secondary world-building. You'll find America's favorite monster here, but reborn in its original form, with an emphasis on a sympathetic, nuanced character. You'll find the Small Town With a Secret in all its Andy-of-Mayberry glory. Marr's second world is unlike any you've read, though it draws inspiration from the classics. The surprises are well paced and the setup for a series is satisfying. There's a lot to explore and when you finish the novel you'll want to explore.

More than anything, 'Graveminder' is a very unusual mix of genres, themes and execution. Marr's prose is smart enough to stay out of the way of her characters, world and plot. It makes the utter oddness of what you're reading utterly transparent. Readers are likely to whip through 'Graveminder' in a couple of sittings, but likely as well to visit the scenes Marr creates afterwards in memory. If death rituals are personal, so are our memories of books. Like the some of the characters in her book, Marr's 'Graveminder' is the sort of book that will not remain buried in memory. It's reading as the Afterlife.

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