I won’t lie. I was wholly and utterly unimpressed by Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven. A New York Times Bestseller? Then the theory of “the dumbing down of America” must indeed be true. The book is supposed to be thought-provoking, emotionally stirring, powerful.
I consider it shallow, emotionally manipulative and uninspiring. While reading, I was apathetic and bored. Its rare for me to be so delighted in finishing a novel for the sake of being done with it.
It follows the moments shortly before carnival mechanic Eddie’s death, through a course of meeting five people who have had a profound effect upon his life. A circus worker who died (unknown to Eddie) in a car accident cause by Eddie as a child. Eddie’s commanding officer in WWII. A woman named Ruby, who was the inspiration and namesake for the carnival where Eddie spent his whole life. His wife. A child he tried in save during the war, after setting fire to a building she was in.
At the end of the day, I was left wondering: what is the point? I felt that, instead of being led to a final resting place of joy and peace, I was being led through a 12-step program. Like I needed to be cured of my addiction to life. I felt like Albom was trying desperately to convey something, but for the life of me I can’t tell you what it was.
Of course, Albom’s depiction of heaven is entirely different from mine. How does one get to heaven? Easy – you die. In this created afterlife, everyone gets there. Of course, that will get you a best seller – no one wants to be told he won’t make it. His heaven is entirely areligious. There is no standard for good or evil – not even a sort of preliminary moral measure you have to meet. It soothes our frail, human hearts to know that we all “make it” in the end, that there isn’t some kind of test we have to pass to get to heaven.
And what, exactly, is heaven like? Well – close your eyes and think of the happiest moment you can remember. Got it? Well, there you have it. Heaven. Once you’ve had some difficult, painful or embarrassing conversations with five individuals you may or may not have ever met in your life, you may enjoy eternity there.
In this self-defined, everyone-has-access heaven, it naturally makes sense to me that it is shallow and unimpressive. It has been stripped of all its power and significance. There is no room for God, or faith, or even justice. It is weak, transparent and disappointing. If that is heaven, I would happily prefer an eternity of unconsciousness.
While I will happily keep my Christian world view, I’m not opposed to reading the world views of others. Do I disagree? Absolutely. That doesn’t necessarily imply that the literature itself is bad. I will happily read things contrary to what I believe for the sake of knowing about them. Just don’t expect me to change my mind.
This literature was, however, bad. The use of the English language is poor at best. I’m not arguing for a Shakespearean or Dickensian masterpiece, complexly written and requiring a dictionary at one’s side. Simplicity can often be an exceptionally powerful literary tool. This is not the English language at its finest, nor is it storytelling at its best.
And so, dear BBC, I have to admit that only three books in and you have significantly disappointed me already. Fortunately, there are many more great books to be read and I’ve happily moved one.
Next in the series: His Dark Materials Trilogy: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.