For believers, Heaven is the ultimate goal. Author Mitch Albom’s wildly popular, and inspirational, tale of an elderly man’s trip Above is titled The Five People You Meet In Heaven (2003, filed in Large Print in the Lennoxville Library).
It tells of Eddie, who grew up in the shadow of an amusement park, and returns from soldiering in Vietnam to give up his dreams and take over his father’s job in maintenance.
Eddie lives a quiet, grey life. He dies on the job, at 83, trying to save a child from being crushed by a ride gone awry.
Given that spectacular exit, it’s no surprise he goes flying off to Heaven. But before settling in, he first meets five people who each explain the role they played in his life – roles he may not have known, nor understood.
This book may make you cry.
And of course, it’s a fable. Who knows what really happens when you die?
Some who’ve been clinically dead but have their hearts jumpstarted return with stories of lights shining at the end of a long tunnel — among other tales.
One of the oldest is told by the philosopher Plato in The Republic (written in 380 BC, you can find copies online for free at Gutenberg.org), in which a soldier who was believed dead is mysteriously returned to life just as his funeral pyre is to be lit. Turns out the soldier received royal treatment in death, and is expected to tell the living what the other side is like: “And there were judges sitting in the intermediate space, bidding the just ascend by the heavenly way on the right hand, having the seal of their judgment set upon them before, while the unjust, having the seal behind, were bidden to descend by the way on the left hand.”
More recently, there’s Danny Orchard, who died and returned, and wrote a best-selling book about it, called The After. He zipped up to Heaven, met his dad, and returned with a wristwatch as proof of the brief visit. Fans and fellow travellers started Afterlifer groups around the world, sharing their experiences of happiness and joy, and some of the sadness of being stuck back on dreary old Earth.
Orchard sits in on meetings every so often, just to listen. He’s at an Afterlifer monthly gathering when an older woman gets the nerve, finally, to speak. She died. She did not go to Heaven. She descended by the way of the left hand.
And when she was revived, she discovered she’d brought someone dead back with her. It was her father, an evil ghoul who haunts her day and night.
So begins Andrew Pyper’s spooky novel, The Damned (2015). Soon, Orchard is haunted by his own twin, a sister who burned to death when she was 16.
Not that anyone minded. Her death likely saved many other lives.
But still. She minded. And still does.
If Danny wants any kind of peace, he’ll have to do as sis says.
The Damned is filled with dread and drama, and the occasional brief bit of humour. You’ll even hear echoes of Mitch Albom. It’s filed in New Arrivals at the Lennoxville Library, and continues Pyper’s eminently readable streak of supernatural novels. All feature writers of some sort, hauntings, and dead or disappeared young people. In The Killing Circle (2008), a Toronto child is kidnapped from a drive-in theatre; The Guardians (2011) is the story of four pals in small-town Ontario with a secret; The Demonologist (2013) stars a New York academic specializing in Dante who watches a demon kidnap his child, then desperately attempts to find her again. (All are filed in Adult Fiction; all are solid, spooky reads.)
Pyper’s a Canadian who places much of the action of The Damned in Detroit. It is as good a city as any in which to set a novel that obviously hopes to trigger the interest of a large American readership.
Entertainingly, 200 years ago this state of affairs went the other way ‘round. Americans, that is, wanted in to Canada.
Here’s Canadian populist historian Pierre Berton: “It was from Fort Detroit that the Americans hoped to invade Canada in the summer of 1812.”
Although outnumbered, the British and Indians in the nearby Canadian fortifications “turned the tables on the invaders and seized not only Fort Detroit but most of Michigan territory with scarcely a drop of blood spilled.” Take that, Americanskis!
Berton’s overview of The Capture Of Detroit (1991, filed in C-140) is first in a series titled Battles Of The War Of 1812.
A main character is young John Richardson, the 15-year-old son of a white and an Algonquin, who volunteered to fight as soon as war was declared. For those living near the line between the two countries, of course, fighting was difficult; they were expected to shoot at relatives and neighbours who’d never before cared about the border.
One hundred and fifty years later, Detroit was Motor City. It was Motown. And then it went into bankruptcy. In author Andrew Pyper’s The Damned, the modern, downtown Detroit of 2015 is Hell.
Detroit has been out of bankruptcy now for a bit more than a year, and some residents have hope (perhaps because they can have nothing else). An NPR story from December cites business leaders who “say Detroit cannot survive by becoming, in essence, two cities: one of haves and one of have nots…. City officials are tearing down tens of thousands of blighted buildings and offering cut-rate prices to those who will move in and fix up salvageable homes. But Detroit still needs more jobs and a better school system.”
And then there’s us, in Canada. Pyper mentions this land to the north in The Damned, and more than once. We are so close, yet so far.
— Eleanor Brown, February 26, 2016