Descriptions of Heaven

October 11, 2016

descriptions-of-heaven-elitereA linguist, a lake monster, and the looming shadow of death—news of an unknown creature in the New Bedford Lake coincides with news that Natalia’s cancer has returned. On the shores of the lake in a strange house with many secret doors, Robert and his family must face the fact that Natalia is dying, and there is no hope this time. But they continue on; their son plays by the lakeside, Natalia paints, Robert writes, and all the while the air is thick with dust from a worldwide drought that threatens to come down and coat their little corner of green.” (goodreads)

To be honest, I decided to use the paragraph above as the beginning for this review because it, along with the question “what’s next?” made me want to read Descriptions of Heaven, a book written by Randal Eldon Greene. I needed a few days to decide what I was going to share with you and to think more about what the story meant to me… I am a bit torn about it. There are parts which will make anyone who has lost someone to cancer stop and take a moment to remember past events or forget once more. Unfortunately, there are also parts which pull you out of the story and that is an aspect which always bothers me.

Anyway, I don’t intend to focus on what I didn’t like. Just keep in mind that the way the story is told feels rather stiff, something which made it difficult for me to actually be closer to the characters and the plot itself. On the other hand, I cannot deny the fact that the moment you look closely at what is happening to this small family (Natalia, Robert and Jesse, their son), you feel their pain and the need to hold onto every moment they have together. From the very first pages, I saw the lives of these characters like a shattering mirror. All those details which make everyday life normal will be torn apart in front of the characters, leaving them unable to do anything but wait for that final dreaded moment and afterwards try to move on.

You will understand the title as you read the story. “What is heaven like, Dad?”, asks Jesse at one point. How does one answer such a question, especially if it comes from the lips of a child? Regardless of how we imagine heaven to be, I wonder if it’s not better to at least hope that the people we’ve lost are in a better place, here (unseen) or anywhere else. Pain is still present either way, but…

I don’t know how many of you watch Doctor Who, but there’s a quote in one of the episodes which came to my mind while I was reading Descriptions of Heaven: “what’s the point in them being happy now if they’re going to be sad later? The answer is, of course, because they are going to be sad later”. Robert and Natalia love their son. Obviously, they are surrounded by friends and relatives, but no one is above their child. There are a few heartbreaking scenes where we see the couple together and there are those which show how much parents love their children. Personal beliefs should never overshadow a child’s happiness. There’s always plenty of time to be sad, but happiness must be cherished, for it can be taken away from us before we truly realize what is happening.

Let me use a quote instead of a longer conclusion: “The act of making art is still endowed with belief, with magic“. You may like or dislike the story, but pay attention to such details. I promise that you will find… well, not exactly clear answers for whatever questions you might have before you start reading the book, but bits and pieces which will either bring forth old memories or make you think about issues which are part of everyone’s lives, whether we acknowledge them or not. After all, life goes on. Until next time!

by Elena Atudosiei

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