I don't like to slag books, even books I didn't care for (except for you, Nanny Diaries; consider yourself officially on notice). It just seems like a dick thing to do. I mean, if someone else got something useful or beautiful out of a book -- or even if it just managed to distract them from their worldly cares for a few hours -- who am I to pee all over that?
I just realized that this is why it's taken me so long to write about the books I've read in the past month: I'm blocked because I don't want to sound like a dink about a particular book that, if sales are anything to reckon with, a lot of people really enjoyed. But a book blogger's gotta do what a book blogger's gotta do, so here goes.
The Five People You Meet in Heaven
by Mitch Albom (#31)
It took me a while to figure out why this book wasn't sitting well with me. At first I thought that maybe it was the overt sentimentality of the writing, but then I reminded myself that I like Little Women and pretty much every kids' story about animals ever written, so I can stomach more than my share of literary treacle.
If you don't know the story, it's about an old man who dies in a tragic carnival accident (shush, you smartasses in the back row). As he travels through the afterlife, he meets five different people who had some impact on his life at different points in time, and through each of these encounters, he has an epiphany that helps him move forward. I won't tell you how it ends, but I'm sure you can figure it out.
In other words, it's your classic "this was your life" scenario, with the typical ensuing self-knowledge and redemption and sense that one's life was worthwhile and that even the bad things make sense in the grand scheme of things. And whatnot. Included in the "whatnot" is the reminder that all our lives are interconnected. There may also have been mention of a certain butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon, though that might have just been implied.
If you sincerely got something out of this story, then bless you. Seriously. And I apologize if my thoughts offend you. But really, who the hell am I? Just some chick with some random opinions, which have no more value than your own. Remind yourself of that as you read the rest of this post.
Okay. So. What bugs me about this book is that I got to the end of it and was, like, "Well, duh. Am I to take it, Mr. Albom, that you are letting me know that self-acceptance is important? And forgiveness? Also important? And that everything happens for a reason? And that, while loss sucks, a person who finds love even once in their life is lucky? Really? You don't say."
And... okay. Let's take it as a given that, if you really think about it, pretty much ALL novels cover some variation on these themes. I'm fine with that. But most other novels -- well, the good ones, anyway -- tend to expound on these ideas in a way that is varied and complex and richly textured. They don't cover each theme in its own separate CHAPTER, so that we the readers can go down a mental checklist as we make our way through the book. Self-acceptance? Check. Tolerance? Check. Etcetera etcetera.
I also profoundly disagree with the notion that everything happens for a reason. To me, this has always seemed like a safe, facile tool to help us stomach the fact that terrible, mostrous, unspeakable things happen in this world. I sympathize with the need to rationalize bad things -- hey, I like to sleep at night as well as the next person -- but it's a dangerous way to think, and possibly a sign that truly horrible things have never happened to you.
The Five People You Meet in Heaven feels, to me, like a weird, uneasy hybrid of The Pilgrim's Progress and The Wealthy Barber... a sort of "Spiritual Awakening for Dummies." But I don't think Albom is a dummy. And I don't think that the millions of people who read this book are dummies (other than the statistically probable few). I just think that if you're looking for a novel to uplift and inspire you, you owe it to yourself to do better. We're all smarter than this.