Hardcover (also available as an e-book), 978-1-9494-6735-2, 312 pgs., $25.95
August 4, 2020
An unexplained death of a parent creates turmoil, uncertainty, and suspicion for the children who have no reliable refuge or access to answers other than their own active imaginations. In Rules for Being Dead by Kim Powers, Creola Perkins has died, leaving behind her two young sons, Clarke and Corey, and a husband who seeks the answers to his problems at the bottom of a bottle. The twist is that while Creola is dead, she is not exactly gone.
Told through multiple points of view, Rules for Being Dead shows several characters struggling with heartache and confusion after Creola’s death. Only Creola and her ten-year-old son, Clarke, are presented in the first-person narrative, providing the image of the unbreakable bond between them that was forged in life and strengthened in death. Clarke secretly shoulders the burden of solving his mother’s death, but at such a tender age, his view of the circumstances is sometimes skewed as he gathers so-called evidence against the person that he believes killed his mother.
Creola’s perspective is unique because she offers it in death as she hovers over her children and watches the events of the year following her demise unfold, even as she untangles and unmoors the memories of her last few days on Earth.
Kim Powers presents a distressing yet intriguing look at a mother’s mysterious passing and her son’s quest to piece the puzzle together amidst his own budding self-awareness and sexuality and his responsibility to protect his younger brother. Set in a small Texas town in the 1960s, Rules for Being Dead is culturally rich and compelling, with Creola’s ethereal state giving her the ability to see what will happen to her sons and society in the future yet unable to intervene in any way. This story is rife with situational irony as the characters search for the truth and reposition themselves and their roles in the Perkins household, each with their own somewhat slanted idea of what happened to Creola.
Kim Powers hooks the reader from the start as Creola begins her journey as a lost soul with budding wings and the tethering need to watch over her boys and figure out her own death. The movies the boys watch at the Ritz theatre provide an incredible revolving backdrop to the events that expand across the pages and to Clarke’s life as he desperately searches for answers and tries to navigate his new world without his mother by watching and emulating the plots and characters on the silver screen.
Powers expertly characterizes coming-of-age children who have lost their mother and adults buried under mistakes and mistrust. The plot starts off as a slow-moving train that quickly gains momentum and speed, culminating in a powder keg of an ending that no one, including the reader, expects.
Rules for Being Dead is a poignant glimpse into a family dynamic that is less than ideal and becomes even murkier and more ambiguous when death throws everything and everyone into a maelstrom of accusations, physical misdeeds, accidents, rejection, and the frantic pursuit to piece a broken family together with promises, hope, enlightenment, and acceptance.
Kim Powers is a two-time Emmy winner and author of the novels Capote in Kansas and Dig Two Graves, as well as the memoir The History of Swimming, a Barnes & Noble Discover Award winner and Lambda Literary Award finalist for Best Memoir of the Year. He also wrote the screenplay for the festival-favorite indie film Finding North and the new play Sidekicked, a “one broad comedy” about Vivian Vance.
Powers is the Senior Writer for ABC's 20/20, part of the team that has received three consecutive Edward R. Murrow Awards. A native Texan, he received an MFA from the Yale School of Drama. In 2007, he was selected by Out Magazine for the influential "Out 100" list. He lives in Manhattan and Asbury Park, New Jersey.