Healing the Dead
When I was twenty-five I took my first job as an English teacher in the resort town of Qualicum Beach. There I met a young girl. She was very pretty but quiet to the point of being distracted. She seemed almost haunted. She enrolled in my grade eight class and I gradually began to learn about her background.
She'd been adopted by an older, childless couple who approached their role with considerable grace. One day the new parents confided to me that their adoptive daughter had suffered a trauma as a child. She'd been playing with the neighbourhood kids, an adventure game of some sort. Perhaps it was based on a TV show: a western or crime drama. One of the other children produced a gun to serve as a prop. The young girl had taken it and in all innocence had fired the pistol and killed her playmate. It's a remarkably common experience.
Over the next fifteen years I managed to stay in touch with my student, saw her grow, mature and eventually have her own baby. Through it all I could see her struggle. That early impression I had of her, the distraction, lingered and shifted but it never dissipated. She knew that I knew about her tragedy, but we never discussed it. I had the impression that mere mention of it would shatter her. Eventually I lost track of her whereabouts. A few years ago I read the obituaries of her adopted parents. The thread was dropped.
Yet her situation stayed with me. At some point, I'm not sure how or when, I was able to weave her into the fabric of my own childhood memories. What would her experience have been like, I wondered. I could not let it go. When my obsession was "saturated," I began to write Healing the Dead. My student became a character I named Rose and I adopted the personna of David, the youngest child in a family of five whose upwardly mobile trajectory was cut short by the accidental shooting death of a neighbour's child.
It was a difficult story to tell, but I kept my finger on the pulse of it by remembering this young girl. If she could bear this weight, I thought, so can I. Writing this story was my way of comforting her.
"Whew! What a story! Healing the Dead is one of those extraordinary novels that grabs you in its fists, stretches you every which way to the breaking point, squeezes every drop of emotion out of you and finally leaves you sitting limp and exhausted, astounded once again at the world's inexplicable wonder and folly." —Andreas Schroeder
Children of ambitious parents, Jayne, Rose and David Sykes struggle to assert their individual identities in a world they believe is confused at best, brutally hypocritical at worst. When David captures the accidental shooting death of a neighbour's child on film, the Sykes family is torn apart by guilt, isolation and a terrible inability to love.
Powerful and disturbing, Healing the Dead is an unforgettable story of the search for salvation amidst the rapidly changing morality of the turbulent 1960s.
"You start reading Healing the Dead with a gasp and never get a proper chance to exhale." —Globe and Mail. Read the full review here.
"The author is not afraid to take a hard look at the darker side of human nature, at the source of fear and violence, and to explore their repercussions with unflinching honesty." —Monday Magazine
D.F. Bailey writes with "unusual power ... and obvious talent." He is "becoming a player in the international arena." —Quill & Quire Magazine