Have you ever found yourself wondering, What is the frequency of souls? Not since the premiere of the Michael Keaton flop White Noise did I really give much thought to the dead speaking to us through radio waves. The title of Mary Kay Zuravleff’s debut novel, The Frequency of Souls, refers to just that. Hearing and recording the dead, however, is a simple subplot in this novel. At the heart of the novel is the heart of a man, as he struggles through his life.
Thirty-nine-year-old George Mahoney has been a design engineer for Coldpoint refrigerators for as long as he can remember. He shared the same office for fourteen years with The Veteran, who has recently been forced into an early retirement. Now George can’t stop fantasizing about his new office mate, Niagara. Niagara is the polar opposite of his loving, devoted wife, Judy. Where Judy is thin, petite, psycho-organized, and rigid, Niagara is large, sloppy, sews her own clothes and goes through life in a haphazard manner - and she also spends every spare penny she makes on old radios to which she listens, waiting for the dead to speak to her.
For the majority of the novel, George swings like a pendulum between the security and comfort of his family and the crazy, unpredictable newness of Niagara. There are a few flashback memories of George’s childhood and adolescent years as he tries to come to terms with the man he’s become. His unlikely obsession with Niagara eventually leads him to answers he never knew he was looking for about his past and his deceased mother, as well as how to be the husband and father he wants to be, rather than the passive observer he’s been thus far.
The Frequency of Souls is written in a manner that flows rather quickly. It chronicles the life of George and his family in such a way as to capture even the smallest details, the mundane thoughts a husband wonders one day that have never risen to his mind before; the weight of adultery versus loyalty; and his attempts to shield his son, Harris, from his wife’s energetic attempts to curtail him, and how that may actually be turning Harris against her.
With such a simple plot, I was hoping for an astounding character study, but found The Frequency of Souls lacking. Luckily, the book isn’t too long, and it was over before I was truly bored, though I think had it been just twenty-five pages longer, I’d have been tempted to chuck it before finishing. I would have liked more of the speaking dead, or if not that, then simply more to keep the book interesting. Two hundred pages of George Mahoney’s fantasies about Niagara, and I was done.