BOOK REVIEW: “The Undertaker’s Wife”

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It’s supposed to go like this: You are born, you grow up, graduate from high school, then college. You fall in love, get married, have two-point-five children and a mortgage with a two-car garage, you grow old, then you die.

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It’s supposed to be like that.

 

But, as they say, if you want to see God laugh, make plans – and in the new book “The Undertaker’s Wife” by Dee Oliver with Jodie Berndt, He surely saw plenty that was funny.

 

Dee Oliver was destined to marry a wealthy doctor.

 

That’s what she thought, growing up in Virginia Beach. Doctors had money, and who doesn’t appreciate money? Plus, they were good with that in-sickness-and-in-health stuff, and Oliver was not.

 

A doctor, she decided, would be a perfect husband.

 

And that was the plan – until Oliver met Johnnie.

 

He was an older (35-year-old) man, handsome and charming. He was also a funeral director and on their first date, he was on-call – which meant that before they reached their destination, they had to retrieve a corpse, which accompanied them on their evening.

 

Still, Oliver fell in love and, though their early romance was on-again-off-again, she married Johnnie, birthed three children, and they lived happily ever after.

 

Almost.

 

When Johnnie suddenly had a stroke and died, Oliver wasn’t sure what to do. She’d only ever been an undertaker’s wife and a mother, so she prayed about her dilemma – and then she found an application for mortuary school in a pile of bills on Johnnie’s desk.

 

God and Johnnie, she figured, were sending a message. She returned to school, got good grades, and eagerly anticipated her internship.

 

And that, she thought, would naturally be done at Johnnie’s family’s funeral home. Why not?

 

She loved the staff, understood procedures, and knew the clientele – but Johnnie’s brother, the business’s new CEO, inexplicably sent Oliver packing.

 

None of his nearest competitors would hire her, either.

 

And so, with temporary license in hand and three daughters to feed, Oliver became “a widowed [Southern] white socialite working in an all-black funeral home in a most definitely all-black neighborhood…”

 

Oh, how I loved this book. And oh, how I hated it.

 

First of all, you can throw out every stereotype you’ve ever heard about funeral homes: there’s nothing at all morbid or stuffy inside “The Undertaker’s Wife.”

 

Author Dee Oliver (with Jodie Berndt) made me laugh again and again, in fact, and I was completely captivated by her amazement at the turns her neatly planned life took.

 

There’s so much charm here, so much gratitude, and a much-needed change of heart and race-based attitude inside an unusual story.

 

And yet, there’s the irritation. Oliver leaves readers hanging off the steepest of cliffs and with no apologies, which almost made me regret this book – almost, but not enough to say it’s not worth reading, because it definitely is.

 

So look for it and hold the growls. Instead, do what I’m doing: wait for the sequel while you laugh with “The Undertaker’s Wife.” Just maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be.

 

“The Undertaker’s Wife” by Dee Oliver with Jodie Berndt, c. 2015, Zondervan, $15.99, 224 pages.

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