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10. Gripping Moment, Ghostly Incident.

In Stop By, it is Marian who drives to the lake at the end of her street and is about to commit suicide. She imagines her lost husband, Tommy, sitting beside her in the passenger seat, and she expects him to approve of her joining him in death. Instead of Tommy, she sees the spirit or avatar of a man she had only met that afternoon. This is not a fantasy novel, and the 'angel' in this case is not supernatural but (let's call it) psychological. He is a kind of spiritual avatar of the man who had just walked into her library that day for the first time. She doesn't even know his name, but his soul speaks to her soul, urging her not to go through with it. This is the coincidence of which I spoke—that they met as she was already thinking of suicide. Prefiguring the haunting incident at the lake, at their meeting earlier that day, Rick saw something wild in her eyes, but had no idea what was going on until she told him much later. It was unforgettable, and got his attention in a positive and gripping manner. It stays with the light, sweet side of the story rather than becoming a dark, psychological thriller. The author knows how to precisely, skillfully take us to that precipice and then pull back, saving those talents for other stories.

Marian knows nothing about Rick, yet he influences her life (saves her life) from that powerful moment when they first made eye contact at the library. Rick's spiritual presence (of which he himself has not a clue) sitting beside her in the car persuades her not to go through with her self-destruction. Tommy, her lost husband, is notably absent—by his choice, we might suppose, although the story leaves this to our speculations. So she returns to her cold, lonely little house on a leafy street in a very Bedford Falls sort of neighborhood, and begins a new, wonderful life (to paraphrase the movie title, coincidentally). After a long, deep sleep, she returns to her job at the library, and sure enough, this stranger—whose name turns out to be Rick Moyer—starts to come around, courting her.