Eddie’s life is not extraordinary. As a maintenance worker
at Ruby Pier amusement park, he has never achieved anything
remarkable. Then, at the beginning of another mundane day, the
Freddy’s Free-Fall ride malfunctions and plummets to the
earth toward a little girl lying on the ground. Eddie attempts to
save her, only to be killed himself. This is the end of his life as
well as the beginning of his story, for “all endings are also
beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time.”

In “The Five People You Meet in Heaven,” Michigander
and Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom relates Eddie’s
journey through the afterlife. Eddie discovers that heaven does not
consist of fluffy, white clouds and golden gates. Rather, it is a
place where people go to begin to understand their lives here on
earth.

Albom’s journalistic background is evident in his prose.
He writes in a simple and straightforward manner, making
“Five People” a quick and easy read, much like his
previous novel, “Tuesdays with Morrie.” His latest also
explores the meaning that is hidden in the normal and everyday.

“Five People,” however, does not begin well. The
first 50 pages suggest that the novel will be an overly simplified
and sentimental tale about finding meaning in a mundane existance,
similar to the film “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Like
George Bailey, Eddie is a little too perfect and self-sacrificing,
which is especially true of his hereoic death. The tale is nice,
but flat and unconvincing.

Once Eddie’s character is developed more, however, the
story improves immensely. Eddie is not an angel after all, but has
more than his share of faults and troubles. During his life, Eddie
was not a happy man. He was raised by a neglectful father, was held
as a prisoner of war during World War II and was forced to give up
his dreams of traveling and becoming an engineer in order to take
care of his mother. These events leave him scarred and bitter; a
dark cloud hangs over him and he feels as if his life were a
failure.

Not surprisingly, once he reaches heaven, Eddie learns that his
life was not in vain after all. There, he travels through the
personal heavens of five people who were touched by his life. One
by one, they each teach him a lesson until he is eventually able to
come to terms with his time on earth.

“The Five People You Meet in Heaven,” much like
Eddie’s life, is ordinary. Albom does not impart any new
revelations, nor is his writing incredibly poignant. However, like
Eddie’s life, the novel has its redeeming qualities. Somehow,
in a few key moments, Albom does manage to touch the heart of the
reader with this simple and straightforward tale.

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