When four patients spontaneously regain consciousness after being declared dead, their loved ones are ecstatic and words like &qu...

Review || Second Lives by P.D. Cacek


When four patients spontaneously regain consciousness after being declared dead, their loved ones are ecstatic and words like "miracle" and "miraculous" begin to float around the hospital. But the jubilation is short-lived when the patients neither recognize their families nor answer to their names. 

Each one vehemently claims to be someone else, someone who lived, and died, in the past. When it's suggested that all four are suffering from fugue states, one of the doctors says that he recognizes a name and verifies he not only knew the girl but was there when she died in 1992. 

It soon becomes obvious that the bodies of the four patients are now inhabited by the souls of people long dead.  

At first glance, Second Lives may be considered a horror story but it is so much more. Four people from differing walks of life die. Yet, they are somehow miraculously brought back from the brink of death, long after such a thing should have been possible. Are they really though, as each person claiming to be someone else, with no memory of the person whose body they now inhabit? The more you read, the story transmutes into one of kindness, compassion, and understanding. 

The story begins in the past, following four people's lives...and deaths: Elisabeth Wyman, died in 1914 attending a woman's suffragette protest, Timothy O'Neal, in a hit and run accident in 1956, Aryeh Rosenberg, murdered in his watch shop in 1922, and Christine Moore, accidentally falling off her high school balcony in 1992. Then we jump to August 24th. These travelers, as they will be later deemed, wake in new bodies: Elisabeth in the body of Sara Cortland, comatose and pregnant but kept alive until her baby reaches term; Timothy in the body of Henry Rollins, a dementia patient whose body is failing him; Aryeh in the body of James Cooper, a paraplegic gay man who decides he can no longer deal with the demands of life and commits suicide; and Helen Harmon, who chose cardiac surgery so that she can get on with her life. While at first, it was challenging to follow so many different characters and timelines, they eventually blend into something totally unusual.

I was completely unprepared for the intensity of Second Lives. Reincarnation certainly isn't a new concept in literature, but Second Lives is unique. These people's lives ended and they immediately stepped into the modern world, in bodies that don't belong to them, waking to relationships and families that have already been established. We aren't talking being reborn as a baby to live a shiny new life full of possibilities. We are talking about shutting one door and immediately opening another. Not only do the travelers have to cope with waking someone else, in another time, but those who lost a loved one have to deal with grief, skepticism, and finally acceptance. How they each choose to do so varies in emotion and strength. 

I was most touched by Henry's story, both before his death and after Timmy's subsequent rebirth. Second Lives turned out to be a very engaging read and one that surprisingly tugged a bit on the ol' heartstrings. While not solidly horror (though technically a body count of 9 IS impressive), it has aspects that science fiction and contemporary fantasy readers would enjoy. P.D. Cacek is definitely an author that I will pick up again!