The spiritual novel Sunnyside Up follows two sisters who confront eternal truths with a helping of heavenly wisdom and earthly charm.
In Rea Nolan Martin’s otherworldly novel Sunnyside Up, two sisters who live and work among the dead contemplate their paths to the hereafter.
Raised in a Kentucky funeral parlor, Adelaide and Felicity are putting off a particular burial. Stubborn Adelaide, who runs the family business on her own, claims that she can’t find the energy to bury Julian, the son of a miner—but she still finds time to sneak smokes, alcohol, and sugary treats.
Felicity, meanwhile, cavorts with spirits and encourages Adelaide to communicate with them, too. The repeated appearance of a stranger on the property complicates matters—as does the fact that the rest of the town seems to have disappeared. It is revealed that Felicity, Adelaide, and Julian were all involved in an accident, though the sisters cannot recall the details of the incident.
Avoidance directs the novel, from that of the accident to Julian’s postponed funeral. Even the sisters’ memories are murky. The chapters toggle between the sister’s perspectives to convey their relative receptiveness to learning what happened, as figures from their pasts try to show them the truth. Drafts of townspeople’s obituaries are present, too; they read like gossip columns, and are used to fill in missing pieces.
Despite its supernatural focus, this is a mirthful story. As the details of the accident are fleshed out, its full impact on Adelaide and Felicity is revealed. They grapple with the possibility of forgiveness and pursue a measure of psychological healing.
The prose complements this blend of reality with the supernatural. It is marked by shifts, too: hill dialect combines with astrological insights, and humor and satire erupt as colloquial culture and high wisdom conflict. For example, the sisters’ mother, who grew up in “the holler,” holds her bettered status over the town and her daughters, but faces comeuppance as characters like Julian prove her views of them wrong.
Most about putting one’s best foot forward, this character-driven story finds its cast facing their worst selves, including their regrets and the hurts they’ve done to others. Those who are difficult to convince are both endearing and frustrating. Their need to be forgiven butts against their need forgive, and though they cannot force others to face their wrongs, transformations still prove possible—when those who need to be transformed are ready. At the same time, forces beyond human control influence the story’s momentum, resulting in whimsical, tender turns.
With heavenly wisdom and earthly charm, the spiritual novel Sunnyside Up follows two sisters who live in a town where the truth is hard to pin down.
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