Title: A Bell for Andy
Author: GL Roberts
Publisher: Seventh Window Publications
Pages/Word Count: 173 Pages
Rating: 4 Stars
Blurb: Brian Gallagher and Andy McGrath grew up in the south end of Boston in the 1950s. They went to the same catholic school, had the same interest in Ireland, had both been hospitalized for Scarlet Fever–they even shared a room–and grew up having the same dreams that took place during a time they did not live and involved people they did not know.
Some of us are meant to relive history…
One night during a party, Brian and Andy share a kiss that changes their lives and their friendship forever.
to remember a past that is not our own…
It isn’t until high school that Brian realizes that he loves Andy, but his love isn’t returned in kind and the two boys go their separate ways… but the dreams continue.
discover a curse that rules our lives…
When Brian learns that Andy is in the hospital after being hit by a car, his life becomes torn apart. For the only way to save Andy is to discover the truth behind their shared dreams and uncover a history he’s not sure is real.
and will be relived again if it’s not broken.
For Brian and Andy share a secret that spans time and have a connection that runs deeper than friendship.
Review: I’m an absolute sucker for reincarnation stories. It’s the idea of a second chance (third, fourth, or fifth, even?), of righting what was wrong once upon a time, of redemption, closure, etc., that gets me every time. There’s something mystical and spiritually nebulous about the idea of returning in different lifetimes that’s always intrigued me.
A Bell for Andy is all about being given another chance (a third one in this case) at correcting a past tragedy, but it comes with a wrinkle. Each man involved returns in a new life with the same personality and behavior, and with this being a love triangle, the odd man out always turns around and screws things up for everyone, forcing the process to repeat in future lifetimes until everyone gets it right. In this case, it’s Brian whose past life memories are the most important; he needs to not only remember all the events that’d led to their dilemma in their current lifetime, but also be the catalyst in finally putting things to right and allow everyone involved some closure. Motivations behind the past tragedy figure largely, and that not only involves Andy, Brian, and Mark, but also peripheral characters such as the gypsy woman who played a key role that got the ball rolling.
There’s some detective work required here since Brian’s forced to remember the past through recurring dreams he shares with both Andy and Mark. Because of that, there’s a repetition of events, with each new dream or memory going back further, i.e., time-wise, each new revelation is something like additional earlier minutes tagged on to the previous one. It’s a fun way of uncovering the truth, but maybe some readers might not be too keen on seeing the same scenes play out here and there. There are also two past lifetimes to cover, with each new revelation coming from either Mark or Brian (Andy prods Brian, and Brian prods Mark). The mystery of these past lives is well-written and well-plotted, which makes the gradual revelations a treat to read. The mystery is also not as straightforward as it seems at first, which is gratifying on several levels. When I thought I’d figured things out about midway through, the grand reveal proved me otherwise and kept the predictability of the tragedy at a minimum. No, it’s not a hundred percent unpredictable, but it at least veers off far more familiar paths.
One of the three is actually the one responsible for the past tragedy and the resulting curse. And he’s written in a very sympathetic way – or at least I found him extremely sympathetic, for all his faults. The overriding fear of being alone, brought on by events when he was younger, pretty much shapes his behavior and destiny through the centuries. It’s also a universal fear. That he’s constantly brushed aside or angrily told off by the other two whenever he’s forced to be with them (and, yes, it’s not his choice to be dragged into their company when they’re together or when Brian thinks about his destined true love) only adds to the pity I feel for him.
That, I think, is one of the more ironic reactions I had toward the characters. Was I meant to feel for him or for the lovers? It might be an unintended consequence because I was really hard-pressed to like the other two, let alone sympathize with their plight throughout the book.
Mark isn’t a very developed character, firstly, and pretty much stays in the wings for the most part, taking the stage during those moments recalling shared dreams and memories. But his personality remains quite vague, and his romantic connection to Brian ends up not being fully realized. We don’t really get a lot of time with the two outside detective work and memories. We’re told they kiss and they snuggle, but that’s about it. We don’t get to see the gradual realization or understanding happening deep in Brian about his feelings for Mark – feelings that’ve been around for around six centuries. Conversely, Brian’s story focuses on finding the truth behind their past lives and what it is he needs to do to fix things. GL Roberts’ style is matter-of-fact and to the point, which helps a lot in the way the mystery is explored – no melodrama, no wallowing – but it does keep the lovers from being fully developed, not only as individuals, but as a pair. Especially as a pair, seeing as how their romance figures largely in the tragedy as well as the curse affecting their future lives.
The mystery, as I’ve noted, is well-plotted and developed. The only issue I have with it involves Mark’s recollections – or at least his method of conveying what he remembers. In at least a couple of scenes, he sits down with Brian and provides a blow-by-blow account of his dreams or past memories. But those accounts are somewhat clumsily handled, the way they’re written. Rather than convey his dreams in a conversational way, he lays them out as though he himself were the author of the book, complete with detailed dialogue and descriptions. I found it fairly easy to dismiss the character recounting those dreams and just replace him with GL Roberts instead, until the end of that conversation. Otherwise, had I stayed in Mark’s head, the whole account would come out as stilted and awkward and not convincing as something an actual person would say.
On the whole, I found A Bell for Andy a very moving read, particularly the end. As it tends to happen in love triangles, there’ll always be heartbreak even in the face of reconciliation, forgiveness, understanding, and acceptance, and even love – whether it’s between friends, lovers, or family. The comfort that could be had is closure, something the four key players in the tangled drama desperately need, and it’s a long, hard road they have to take to get there. It’s unfortunate that there’s a price paid once everything’s said and done, but it does add a great deal of humanity in what could’ve easily been a straightforward reincarnation story. And it’s a beautiful and much-appreciated touch that Roberts gives to the book.
You can buy A Bell for Andy here: