Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Novel pumps hope for sweet hereafter

  • Print

Mitch Albom has served up another generous helping of his specialty, Heaven Lite.

The popular American author has sold 30 million copies of his books, including Tuesdays with Morrie and The Five People You Meet in Heaven. His new novel is likely to be a hit as well, catering to that all-too-human longing for a few more minutes of conversation with a departed loved one.

A strong river of hope flows through the pages of The First Phone Call from Heaven as Albom tackles questions of individual healing and society's response to what comes after life with a warmth and emotion that transcends religious denominations.

There's no heavy-duty theology here. Indeed, God does not make so much as a cameo appearance.

The storyline is fairly simple -- if you believe. Several residents of Coldwater, a small town in Michigan, start receiving cellphone calls from their dead relatives.

Love is the underlying theme in the messages describing heaven. They are custom-tailored to their recipients, including the town's sheriff, who hears from his son.

Real estate agent Katherine Yellin gets a weekly call from her dead sister. In one typical message she is told, "We are all in the light... the light is grace... and we are part of... the one great thing."

That great thing is love. "You are born in it... you return to it."

The phone calls start the day a jet pilot, Sullivan Harding, is released from prison for crashing a jet into an aircraft. Sully's wife, badly injured in a car accident on her way to the crash site, dies in hospital while he is in prison.

After Katherine proclaims the miracle in church, others go public as well.

A reporter at a small TV station, is assigned to cover the miracle, but remains skeptical. When the story goes viral, she is sent back to Coldwater to continue the coverage.

The publicity changes the nature of the miracle, from an intense personal experience to a public maelstrom.

Cellphone sales start booming.

Once-empty churches are now full on Sundays, the local diner is busy all the time and can barely keep up with demand.

People are clamouring for real estate close to those who have experienced the miracle.

And the Roman Catholic bishop, unwilling to concede a miracle just yet, is jockeying to put one of his flock in position to be credited as the first to have received a call, should the miracle be proven.

Sully doesn't believe in the miracle. For him, there is no heaven, and dead is dead. When his son's teacher gives the boy a cellphone so he can wait for a call from his mom, that sets Sully off on a campaign to discover the truth.

The story is salted with gems that return to the main themes. What is false about hope? If the world believes, it behaves better. If you believe it, you don't need proof.

Albom has drawn a fair bit of flak for ethical missteps as a sports columnist for the Detroit Free Press, but this has not hurt his popularity as an author, and he leaves behind in the pages of this book the impression he is a man of faith, though not necessarily in the conventional sense.

Gordon Arnold is a Winnipeg writer. His latest fiction appears in The Prairie Journal of Canadian Literature.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 2, 2013 A1

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Tree remover has special connection to Grandma Elm

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Carolyn Kavanagh(10) had this large dragonfly land on her while spending time at Winnetka Lake, Ontario. photo by Andrea Kavanagh (mom0 show us your summer winnipeg free press
  • Goose sits in high grass near Marion Friday afternoon for cover -See Bryksa 30 Day goose challenge- Day 18 - May 25, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you like Gord Steeves’ idea to sell four city-owned golf courses to fund road renewal?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google