Souls Raised from the Dead

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In SOULS RAISED FROM THE DEAD, young teenager Mary Grace Thompson is diagnosed with chronic kidney failure, a revelation that forces her family to come to terms with their feelings about life, death, and each other. Her father Frank, a North Carolina highway patrol officer, must face the prospect of losing Mary and deal with his anger toward her self-centered mother, his former wife Christine. Frank’s mother Tacey finds Mary’s illness the ultimate test of her religious faith. Frank’s lover Jill recalls the loss of her own child, given up for adoption by the unwed Jill after the child’s father deserted her. The two sides of Mary’s family, the Thompsons and the Broomes, must set aside their mutual dislike as Mary’s condition gradually worsens.

SOULS RAISED FROM THE DEAD fits neatly into the genre of contemporary Southern fiction, recalling the works of Lee Smith and Vicki Covington in its blend of humor and drama, and in its emphasis on family and faith. The novel charts a gradual movement from division and isolation to acceptance and unity, an optimistic theme which mitigates its morbid subject. If Betts’s characterizations are occasionally somewhat forced (Dandy’s witticisms in particular seem a bit too well-timed, as if they had been rehearsed), her observations of human behavior are often uncannily accurate, such as the early scene in which Tacey reluctantly visits palm reader Georgia Broome. The novel’s opening and closing scenes, involving two dramatically different traffic accidents, neatly symbolize the changes the main characters go through during the story, displaying Betts’s subtle storytelling skills.