The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud Summary

Ben Sherwood

The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud

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The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud Summary

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The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud by Ben Sherwood is a novel about grief and choice. It begins with a firefighter, Florio Ferrente, arriving at the scene of an accident. Two brothers in one car collided with a truck, and both die. The older of the two brothers, fifteen-year-old Charlie, is revived, but not before he makes a solemn vow to his brother Sam not to leave him. Sam cannot be saved.

The boys were on their way home from a Red Sox baseball game when Sam noticed that the moon looked especially large. Charlie, an inexperienced drive, took his eyes off from the road and focused his attention on the moon. When a truck drove into their lane, Charlie didn’t see because he was staring at the moon.

Years later, Charlie, a recent college graduate, returns to Waterside Cemetery, where Sam is buried. As head groundskeeper, it’s among Charlie’s job duties to make sure the cemetery is empty for the day before locking the gate. However, there’s more to his work than that. Since he died and was brought back to life by Ferrente, Charlie has been able to see spirits. The first spirit he could see was his brother, Sam, and he sees him every night at sunset. Because Sam’s spirit seemed to fade on the rare occasion that Charlie was late, he works hard to be punctual in order to meet his brother’s ghost.

In Part Two, the reader meets a new character—Tess Carroll. Tess’ goal is to be one of ten women to sail solo around the world. During a test run, she sails into a storm to see how her new sail will handle the raging winds, as well as gauge her own skills at managing a storm. Shortly after entering the storm, Tess retreats into her boat’s cabin. The boat capsizes, and when she wakes up the next day, she’s in Waterside Cemetery. She’s bruised but otherwise seems no worse for the wear. Charlie then talks to the spirit of Florio Ferrente, who has just died. Florio, who always believed in miracles, tells Charlie there’s a reason he was given a second chance at life. After their discussion, Charlie meets Tess and invites her for dinner at his cottage.

Charlie goes to buy food for his dinner with Tess, though he’s nervous to try dating again. His last girlfriend couldn’t understand why he had to be at the cemetery at sunset. He meets with Sam and asks him to keep his distance so that Tess doesn’t get scared away. While Charlie is out buying food, Tess visits her grandmother, who, as on many other visits, doesn’t seem to know her. However, at the end of the visit, she tells Tess that she can hear her and will see her soon.

Tess and Charlie’s date gets off to a great start with lively conversation over dinner. They decide to walk around the cemetery, and Charlie takes Tess to Sam’s mausoleum, which was paid for by the trucking company after they learned their driver—the one who hit Charlie and Sam years ago—was drunk. Sam arrives and tries to get Charlie’s attention, though Charlie tries to dismiss his brother’s spirit without Tess finding out he was ever there. She reveals that her father died; Charlie knows his spirit immediately passed on because he never saw him around the cemetery. At the end of the night, Tess goes home to her dog, who cannot hear her—he is deaf—and spends the rest of the night thinking about Charlie.

Part Two ends with Charlie learning that Tess’s boat has been lost at sea, and Tess is surely dead. Tess meets Sam’s spirit at the cemetery; Sam tells her where she can meet Charlie at sunset. In Part Three, Charlie goes out with Tess’s friend Tink and they find debris from her boat. Charlie worries her spirit might have already crossed over, and runs to meet Sam, who tells him that Tess plans to come and meet him. During that day, Tess panics when no one in town can see her, she has no reflection, and she cannot remember what happened the night of the storm. She meets up with Charlie, who tells her about searching for her boat and she realizes she is dead. After a night of intimacy, Tess leaves Charlie with a note saying she is starting to cross over. She asks him to find her body. Charlie is, at first, distraught and thinks of taking his own life, but ultimately decides he will go and search for Tess.

In the fourth and final part, Charlie misses a meeting with Sam. Because of this, Sam crosses over. He then tries to help Charlie find clues to where Tess is. They find her; she is in a coma. The Coast Guard comes to take her back to land despite there not being much hope for her recovery. Charlie quits his job at the cemetery and says a final farewell to Sam before returning to his hometown to work as a paramedic. He visits Tess often, and during one visit, she wakes. After some time, she finally remembers who Charlie is, and they get married and have two sons. The reader is told this last bit of information by Florio, who also asserts the importance of letting go of the dead in order to get on with living.