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Saving Elijah

About the Book

Saving Elijah

Psychologist Dinah Rosenberg Galligan is living every mother’s nightmare: her youngest child, Elijah, has fallen into a life-threatening coma. Faced with a seemingly hopeless situation, Dinah meets the mysterious Seth Lucien, a spirit with a surprising connection to her past. Lucien promises to help Elijah emerge from his coma but at a devastating cost: the miracle comes only after Dinah enters into a Faustian bargain; her son is saved, but her entire world begins to crumble

At its core, Saving Elijah is a gripping literary tale of a mother’s love set against a struggle with faith. Laced with humor and passion, the novel confronts a multitude of psychological and philosophical issues, from the forces that bind a family together, to the nightmarish underside of modern life-saving technology, to what it means to be human.

Fran Dorf on Saving Elijah

After I lost my son in 1994, I was incapacitated with grief. I was convinced I’d never be capable of writing another novel. At some point, however, I decided that I needed to write another book, because I didn’t know what else to do with myself. But how was I going to find a theme other than grief, when my grief was so huge? Yet grief it was, and I vowed I would try to be true to the psychological devastation that serious bereavement produces, as I felt and observed it in myself, and saw it in others. 

Through many early drafts, I struggled to write a conventional novel about a woman whose marriage had broken up after the loss of a child, telling her story mostly in flashback. Perhaps contrary to conventional wisdom, I found that the more I fictionalized, separating my own experience from my characters’, the more cathartic the writing became. Several years into the process, an acquaintance, after hearing that I had lost a child, stared for a moment, then muttered, "Anything but that, anything but that." Many people had that reaction, as if the parent were given a choice in the matter. But the fact is you do try to bargain with God. I can’t imagine who wouldn’t, even a nonbeliever. My life for my child’s.

I turned my plot inside out, and before long the ghost called Seth Lucien appeared, in all his taunting grandeur, as the vehicle for a Faustian bargain, in a story that takes the reader, and my character Dinah, into the very heart of grief and loss and faith. 

While on one level Saving Elijah is a supernatural thriller, the ghost doesn’t just walk into the story to scare us. The reader is already terrified by the situation. The ghost is Dinah’s disembodied self, her wrecked "ego" in psychological terms, playing her life back to her, blocking her normal coping mechanisms, personifying the grief and guilt that any parent would feel in such a situation: "Where did I go wrong? What could I have done differently?" 

With his running commentary on the action, the ghost—who shares certain qualities with the dybbuk (evil spirit) of Jewish folk legend— also functions as a Greek chorus, albeit a lunatic one. Since a ghost doesn’t have to observe human rules of decorum, he can tease, play mind-games, philosophize, joke, and shock, which seems about right in the surreal world of a pediatric intensive care unit. I put the ghost into competition with the horrific events of the story. True life wins for horror, and Seth is the comic relief—sort of. 

I hope that Saving Elijah, while moving readers and compelling them to turn the pages, makes them think. As Seth might say, "Let the play begin."

Saving Elijah
by Fran Dorf

  • Publication Date: June 5, 2000
  • Hardcover: 389 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult
  • ISBN-10: 039914630X
  • ISBN-13: 9780399146305