The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
Rating: ••• (Recommended)
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My assignment of a lifetime achievement award for writing a perspective about heaven remains held by Joseph Heller in Good as Gold, despite an interesting and creative effort by Mitch Albom in his new book, The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Whereas Heller provided a great image of your arrival in heaven at the age you were when you were at your best on earth, Albom presents five ages of Eddie, the protagonist, as he meets five different people in heaven who help him understand the impact of his life on earth. Here’s an excerpt from early in the book (pp. 26-31) and the first person he meets in heaven:
Eddie awoke in a teacup.
It was a part of some old amusement park ride—a large teacup, made of dark, polished wood, with a cushioned seat and a steel-hinged door. Eddie's arms and legs dangled over the edges. The sky continued to change colors, from a shoe-leather brown to a deep scarlet.
His instinct was to reach for his cane. He had kept it by his bed the last few years, because there were mornings when he no longer had the strength to get up without it. This embarrassed Eddie, who used to punch men in the shoulders when he greeted them.
But now there was no cane, so Eddie exhaled and tried to pull himself up. Surprisingly, his back did not hurt. His leg did not throb. He yanked harder and hoisted himself easily over the edge of the teacup, landing awkwardly on the ground, where he was struck by three quick thoughts.
First, he felt wonderful.
Second, he was all alone.
Third, he was still on Ruby Pier.
But it was a different Ruby Pier now. There were canvas tents and vacant grassy sections and so few obstructions you could see the mossy breakwater out in the ocean. The colors of the attractions were firehouse reds and creamy whites—no teals or maroons—and each ride had its own wooden ticket booth. The teacup he had awoken in was part of a primitive attraction called Spin-O-Rama. Its sign was plywood, as were the other low-slung signs, hinged on storefronts that lined the promenade:
El Tiempo Cigars! Now, That's a Smoke!
Chowder, 10 cents!
Ride the Whipper-Tbe Sensation of the Age!
Eddie blinked hard. This was the Ruby Pier of his childhood, some 75 years ago, only everything was new, freshly scrubbed. Over there was the Loop-the-Loop ride—which had been torn down decades ago—and over there the bathhouses and the saltwater swimming pools that had been razed in the 1950s. Over there, jutting into the sky, was the original Ferris wheel—in its pristine white paint—and beyond that, the streets of his old neighborhood and the rooftops of the crowded brick tenements, with laundry lines hanging from the windows.
Eddie tried to yell, but his voice was raspy air. He mouthed a "Hey!" but nothing came from his throat.
He grabbed at his arms and legs. Aside from his lack of voice, he felt incredible. He walked in a circle. He jumped. No pain. In the last ten years, he had forgotten what it was like to walk without wincing or to sit without struggling to find comfort for his lower back. On the outside, he looked the same as he had that morning: a squat, barrel-chested old man in a cap and shorts and a brown maintenance jersey. But he was limber. So limber, in fact, he could touch behind his ankles, and raise a leg to his belly. He explored his body like an infant, fascinated by the new mechanics, a rubber man doing a rubber man stretch.
Then he ran.
Ha-ha! Running! Eddie had not truly run in more than 60 years, not since the war, but he was running now, starting with a few gingerly steps, then accelerating into a full gait, faster, faster, like the running boy of his youth. He ran along the boardwalk, past a bait-and-tackle stand for fishermen (five cents) and a bathing suit rental stand for swimmers (three cents). He ran past a chute ride called The Dipsy Doodle. He ran along the Ruby Pier Promenade, beneath magnificent buildings of Moorish design, with spires and minarets and onion-shaped domes. He ran past the Parisian Carousel, with its carved wooden horses, glass mirrors, and Wurlitzer organ, all shiny and new. Only an hour ago, it seemed, he had been scraping rust from its pieces in his shop.
He ran down the heart of the old midway, where the weight guessers, fortune-tellers, and dancing gypsies had once worked. He lowered his chin and held his arms out like a glider, and every few steps he would jump, the way children do, hoping running will turn to flying. It might have seemed ridiculous to anyone watching, this whitehaired maintenance worker, all alone, making like an airplane. But the running boy is inside every man, no matter how old he gets.
And then Eddie stopped running. He heard something. A voice, tinny, as if coming through a megaphone.
"How about him, ladies and gentlemen? Have you ever seen such a horrible sight?...”
Eddie was standing by an empty ticket kiosk in front of a large theater. The sign above read
The World's Most Curious Citizens.
Ruby Pier's Sideshow!
Holy Smoke! They're Fat! They're Skinny!
See the Wild Man!
The sideshow. The freak house. The ballyhoo hall. Eddie recalled them shutting this down at least 50 years ago, about the time television became popular and people didn't need sideshows to tickle their imagination.
"Look well upon this savage, born into a most peculiar handicap..."
Eddie peered into the entrance. He had encountered some odd people here. There was Jolly Jane, who weighed over 500 pounds and needed two men to push her up the stairs. There were conjoined twin sisters, who shared a spine and played musical instruments. There were men who swallowed swords, women with beards, and a pair of Indian brothers whose skin went rubbery from being stretched and soaked in oils, until it hung in bunches from their limbs.
Eddie, as a child, had felt sorry for the sideshow cast. They were forced to sit in booths or on stages, sometimes behind bars, as patrons walked past them, leering and pointing. A barker would ballyhoo the oddity, and it was a barker's voice that Eddie heard now.
"Only a terrible twist of fate could leave a man in such a pitiful condition! From the farthest corner of the world, we have brought him for your examination.... "'
Eddie entered the darkened hall. The voice grew louder.
"This tragic soul has endured a perversion of nature.... "
It was coming from the other side of a stage.
"Only here, at the World's Most Curious Citizens, can you draw this near...."
Eddie pulled aside the curtain.
"Feast your eyes upon the most unus- "
The barker's voice vanished. And Eddie stepped back in disbelief.
There, sitting in a chair, alone on the stage, was a middle-aged man with narrow, stooped shoulders, naked from the waist up. His belly sagged over his belt. His hair was closely cropped. His lips were thin and his face was long and drawn. Eddie would have long since forgotten him, were it not for one distinctive feature.
His skin was blue.
"Hello, Edward," he said. "I have been waiting for you."
Readers of Tuesdays with Morrie are likely to give The Five People You Meet in Heaven a try. It’s a harmless and sentimental book that most readers will find enjoyable.
Steve Hopkins, October 28, 2003
ã 2003 Hopkins and Company, LLC
The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the November 2003 issue of Executive Times
URL for this review: http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/Books/The Five People.htm
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