The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom, copyright 2003.
Source: Personal Collection – Purchased New
Reason for Reading: Recommendation from my best friend.
Up until now, I had managed to get by without reading anything by Mitch Albom. I had noticed his books in the shop, but hesitated about purchasing any of them. I am always a little wary of Christian fiction, worried that it will be too preachy or lacking in depth. All of the Christian fiction I have read to date has been recommended by friends, The Five People You Meet in Heaven was no exception. Earlier this year I talked my best-friend into reading one of my favourite books, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, and she loved it (or so she told me at least) so I wanted to give one of her favourite authors a try.
Eddie is the maintenance manager for the amusement park at Ruby Pier and has been since he was injured in the war. It is not the forever he had dreamed of, but life has a tendency of interfering with our dreams and placing us in unexpected situations. Today is Eddie’s 83rd birthday. It also happens to be his last day on Earth. When his number comes up, Eddie wakes up to a very different sort of heaven than the one he had envisioned. He isn’t met by pearly gates or the smiling face of God, but rather by a funny looking man with blue skin. It turns out this man is someone whose life was affected by Eddie when he was younger. After a brief explanation of his presence, the man attempts to give Eddie a lesson on the interconnectivity of all life. He explains further that Eddie will encounter four other people in heaven, each of whom have a different lesson for him. After his five lessons, he will go on to wait for other people to get to heaven and will help in teaching them lessons.
Thankfully, this was not a preachy read, but it was really lacking in depth. The topics that were brought up in the story (i.e. forgiveness and sacrifice) were very deep topics, but they weren’t at all fleshed out. Eddie meets each person, they tell him a story that lasts three or four pages, and then they disappear. In this short time Eddie is supposed to have ingested what they have had to say and taken heed of their words. The book is less than 200 pages in length and there are five lessons. You can easily do the math to determine the velocity of the plot, which has, rolled into it, extra tidbits of what is happening on Earth sans Eddie.
As a result of the quick pace, I simply didn’t get a very good sense of who Eddie was. They try packing his 80-some-odd-years of life into less than 200 pages, much of which is dialogue. I got a different sense of who Eddie was from each person, but, in the end, didn’t have any clearer sense of who the man was. It was also just a little too convenient that Eddie immediately understands the lesson each person is trying to teach him and is freed of whatever burden he has been carrying. This was a little too neat and tidy for my tastes. I mean, I get that he is in heaven and anything can happen in heaven, but Eddie’s life was a complicated one and the five people seem to trivialize it awfully quickly.
I don’t want to give this book an entirely bad rap. Albom certainly writes very well and does a great job of keeping his audience engaged. He doesn’t fill his pages with fancy prose or laborious, monotonous detail. I easily flew through the book in a day finding myself pulled into the story; I needed to know what happened next. I also liked that Albom didn’t shy away from difficult elements. He doesn’t get into the nitty-gritty of things, but he isn’t afraid to reveal the naked truths of tragedy.
“Her skin was horribly burned. Her torso and narrow shoulders were black and charred and blistered. When she turned around, the beautiful, innocent face was covered in grotesque scars. Her lips drooped. Only one eye was open. Her hair was gone in patches of burned scalp, covered now by hard, mottled scabs.” The Five People You Meet in Heaven, page 189.
All in all I wasn’t particularly impressed. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to a select audience, but I don’t think I could be convinced to try Mitch Albom again.