Verdict: HEARTS LEFT BEHIND is a beautifully written, emotionally stirring and satisfying journey into the heart of grief and life.
Tucker returns to his childhood home of Willow Grove to seeking peace and comfort. Instead, he uncovers a new hurt associated with the death of a childhood friend, Katie. With the hurt, he uproots a mystery and its terrible truth.
Tucker is a father living with the pain and memories of his stillborn son. While visiting the town where he grew up, and where Ethan is buried, Tucker reads an obituary and discovers that a former school friend of his, Beatrice has lost her child after battling a brain tumor for more than two years. Memories of Tucker’s less-than-kind interaction with Beatrice at school flood back to him and he writes an anonymous letter to her and places it by her daughter’s grave. This gesture starts a series of other events that moves through the town, uncovering secrets and hints of answers that Tucker pursues in a quest to solve a past mystery and, what Tucker believes, was an incredible wrong.
HEARTS LEFT BEHIND is heartbreaking and hypnotic. Author Derek Rempfer conveys the parent-child relationship with haunting power, highlighting with deep sensitivity and extraordinary insight, just how children create their parents and even become them; how death affects the living; and how a grief over a lost child changes a parent . . . even years later.
Rempfer’s characters are fully actualized, coming alive through deft observation of their actions, that further stirs the emotions. The townspeople are portrayed with a clear and quiet clarity that illuminates the propriety of the time and place in which Tucker grew up. This attention to manners offers an example of a moment of lightheartedness as Tucker hems and haws about how to address Katie’s father:
“It would be silly for me to call him Mr. Cooper so I quickly rehearsed
saying “Howard” under my breath. I should call him Howard. I was a
grown man, after all.
‘Hi, Mr. Cooper,’ I said.”
The plot unwinds naturally, while the mystery behind Katie’s murder is deftly woven into Tucker’s grief and search to find some peace in his heart about Ethan’s death. Though his childhood town is peaceful, the quaintness of the town is almost sinister in its perfection, and a perfect backdrop for the events that unfold:
“There’s just something very special about growing up here that you can’t
quite put your finger on. It’s wholesome, it’s pure . . . Like there’s just something
understood among its inhabitants. You hear it in secret hushes blowing through
the trees, passed down in leafy whispers.”
The narrative takes on a paradoxical quality as the meditative flow of the narrative with the rich images and language convey a sense of something sad. Rempfer brings out the paradoxes in life with rich images and flowing language, conveying elements of life with a heartwarming, yet haunting; painful yet soothing quality: “The town remembers me and like a lonely old man it reminds me of my forgotten stories whenever I visit.” Another example of these bittersweet moments, evoked through poignant descriptions, occurs when Tucker goes to Ethan’s grave, and observes, “I would never be closer than these six feet. Never farther than closed eyes and a quiet moment.”
HEARTS LEFT BEHIND is a beautifully written, emotionally stirring and satisfying journey into the heart of grief and life.
Reviewed by Maya Fleischmann for IndieReader
* Note: Since being reviewed by IR, this title was picked up by a small press and re-titled WHERE THE BROKEN LIE