Benjamin Hedin, Under the Spell
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One of Vanity Fair's "11 Books You Should Read This Month."
Under the Spell is the first novel by Benjamin Hedin, a dazzling new voice in American fiction. Newly widowed Sandra is searching her husband’s email for financial information when she discovers a correspondence between him and a woman named Ryan. Rather than simply sharing the news of the death, Sandra, who is shocked and hungry for details, instead impersonates her husband as she writes back to Ryan. This bold course of action will expose the secrets and solitude within her marriage, prompting her to reconsider everything she once held dear.
Unmoored and seeking connection, Sandra also meets Lee, a single mother with a drinking problem, and begins babysitting her daughter. But Sandra can’t stop herself from continuing the correspondence with Ryan, in the process uncovering more about her husband—and Ryan herself. A novel that forces us to question how much of a person, even those closest to us, remains obscure, Under the Spell reveals the astonishing, transformative power of grief. This compelling study in bereavement joins classics such as Don DeLillo’s The Body Artist and Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking.
“It's impossible not to fall under the spell of this aptly titled novel. I started it compulsively, cleverly lured into thinking I was reading one kind of novel—dangling the revelation of a sensationally secret adulterous affair, beyond the grave—only to realize that I was reading quite a different book: the slower revelation of a relationship more messy and formless and uncharted than I had previously expected. And as the narrative taught me how to slow down (though it never loosens its grip), so I began to admire its richness and the subtlety of its lean but eloquent prose.” —James Wood, book critic, New Yorker
“This novel about a grieving woman who has suddenly lost her husband in a car wreck is a brilliant story that could also be a song. It’s set in the Northwest but could be set in Arkansas. It’s filled with interesting characters and haunting mystery. From page to page, you follow her as she experiences a dark comedy of strange and unsettling emotions that deaths and funerals have a way of bringing out of the people who are left behind. Like the best writers, Ben knows his way around the written word. And like the best stories, Under The Spell is at once contemporary and timeless.” —Lucinda Williams, Grammy Award winner
BENJAMIN HEDIN is the author of In Search of the Movement: The Struggle for Civil Rights Then and Now and editor of the anthology Studio A: The Bob Dylan Reader. He has written for the New Yorker, Time, the Atlantic, the Oxford American, and the Chicago Tribune, among other publications. Also a Grammy-nominated producer of documentary films, he wrote the films Two Trains Runnin' about the search for two forgotten blues singers and the multiple award-winning 2021 documentary MLK/FBI—called "eye-opening and jaw-dropping" by Rolling Stone. He lives in Atlanta.
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