Prather’s Pick: A novel with a message
Every now and then a novel comes along that tugs at our emotions and makes us think. This week’s novel is such a book. “The Next Person You Meet in Heaven” was written by Mitch Albom.
Fifteen years ago Albom wrote “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.” Edddie, the main character in that novel was inspired by Albom’s own Uncle Eddie. In the novel, Eddie is a war veteran who works as a mechanic at Ruby Pier Amusement Park. One day he saves Annie, an eight-year-old girl from being killed in a park accident. However, in doing so, he dies.
While he was alive, Eddie believed his life was meaningless, but in heaven he meets five people who prove him wrong. “The Next Person You Meet in Heaven” is the sequel. It’s Annie’s story.
Annie doesn’t remember the accident at the amusement park. Eddie shoved her out of the path of a cart when it came loose, and Annie’s hand was severed when it was hit by a piece of metal. After hours of surgery, doctors managed to reattach her hand. Now a grown woman, Annie is a nurse at a hospital where she helps a lot of people but doesn’t realize it. Instead, she focuses on the mistakes she made in life, beginning with a time when she was a toddler. (They are scattered throughout the book.)
The novel begins at the end. The narrator counts down the hours between Annie’s wedding, to Paulo, and her death. During the wedding and reception, Annie notices an old man. Eventually she realizes that he is Eddie, the man from the amusement park.
In a strange chain of events, on their way to the hotel, Annie and Paulo meet up with Talbut, a balloonist who leaves them with his business card. Early the next morning they notice the card and decide to go on a sunrise balloon ride. The weather isn’t so good, but Teddy, the substitute balloonist, decides to take them on a ride anyway.
The balloon hits power lines; flames are everywhere. Paulo pushes Annie out of the balloon to save her, but he is seriously injured. When his lungs fail, Annie offers to give Paulo one of hers. Annie dies and then experiences something that is unlike anything she has experienced before.
There’s a twist at the end of this extraordinary novel. There are several messages for the reader, one of which is “one life touches another.”
Mitch Albom has written both memoirs and fiction. His most recent memoir is “Finding Chika,” previously reviewed in this column.
This week’s novel was first published in hardcover by HarperCollins Publishers, 2018. I reviewed the paperback copy (2019) that costs $15.99.