Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on The Resurrectionists.
Michael Collins first novel The Keepers of Truth earned the author a Booker Prize nomination. His second novel,The Resurrectionists, however, although compelling and poignant with its portrayal of small town USA and less than average people, has an extremely confusing plot and it gets harder and harder to keep up the protagonistís life.
Frank Cassidy is an average Joe, struggling in dead end jobs, married to a woman Honey, a skilled typist. They are dysfunctional, lead unstable and unsettled lives and have huge demons to exorcise. Honeyís ex-husband is on death row, and her son Robert from that union is sullen and disturbed. And then thereís the happy son, Ernie, that Frank and Honey have together.
Cassidy has a past of mental stress. When he was five years old, his parents died in a fire. He survived and was raised by an uncle, who took in him because he felt obligated to do so. Apart from the trauma of the fire and the loss of his parents, there is also the stress of daily life, which he finds hard to manage. So he leaves for Chicago. But instead of finding a better life, he ends up in a sanatorium for awhile after a nervous breakdown.
The story begins in the late seventies, with Cassidy reading in an out-of-town newspaper that his uncle has been murdered. The suspect is a man who was supposed to be dead but is now lying in a coma. Cassidy decides to return to the symbolically bleak, barren and cold Cooper, Michigan, not to mourn but to rake in his share of the family farm which used to belong to his father.
Meanwhile, Cassidy's brother Ward and his wife refuse to send his money and discourage him from flying out. Cassidy comes anyway, by stealing two cars and robbing a man dying of cancer. He hopes that with the amount that he inherits from the farm, he will be able to start anew. He doesnít ask for much, just enough to be able to raise his family comfortably. That makes us forgive his stealing; his cause justifies it. Still, itís hard to connect with the narrator.
We do realize that everything isnít his fault, but that doesnít make him anymore likeable --- in fact, except for the little kid Ernie, who is especially endearing in his innocence and normalcy --- it is hard to like anyone in this book. But thatís the whole point: everyone isnít functional, but they all want the same thing, a good life. And as Cassidy takes his family on his quest across the country, the journey becomes an adventure and a catharsis for each of the characters.
There are few moments of peace and tranquility in The Resurrectionists, such as Ernie playing with the dinosaurs he carries everywhere, he and his teenage stepbrother playing in the swimming pool, and the fast food meals. This isnít a profound book, but the sadness and the deeply impoverished lives of the characters makes it heavy. Their despair and their inability to see things clearly is frustrating, but in the end readers will find themselves rooting for the family's survival -- and we do hope for a happy ending.