Those 5 People Can Go To Hell

I'm still really enjoying Anonymous Lawyer. I just haven't had as much time to read this week as I did last week.

But, in the meantime, I'll give you a book review of a book I really severely disliked, The Five People You Meet In Heaven.

I cannot tell you how much I hated this book. Before I read it, I saw it cited everywhere as an excellent book. I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. I got it, and took it on vacation.

And, I need to state publicly how much I thought this book sucked. Because, first, I want to know if there are anyone else hated this book as much as (and in the same way as) I did; and, second, because if you choose to read this book, I want you to be forewarned so you can have realistic expectations and not be as disappointed as I was.

Now, maybe that was the first problem. I had very high expectations for this book. It's tiny, everyone raves about it, so, maybe you could say that I was going to be disappointed no matter how good the book was. But, it wasn't good at all. And I've read other highly recommended books, and done just fine at forming my own impressions.

Here comes the part where I talk about the content of the book. So, if you're like me, and you like to read a book knowing nothing about it, you should stop right here. Unless you've already decided that you're not going to read it, which is the right move, and in which case it's safe for you to keep reading this post...

There are a lot of comments out there that this book isn't "literary" enough or that's it's not well written. And, while that may all be true, my real problem is with the bigger theme of the book.

Here's how Amazon describes the book:

Part melodrama and part parable, Mitch Albom's The Five People You Meet in Heaven weaves together three stories, all told about the same man: 83-year-old Eddie, the head maintenance person at Ruby Point Amusement Park. As the novel opens, readers are told that Eddie, unsuspecting, is only minutes away from death as he goes about his typical business at the park. Albom then traces Eddie's world through his tragic final moments, his funeral, and the ensuing days as friends clean out his apartment and adjust to life without him. In alternating sections, Albom flashes back to Eddie's birthdays, telling his life story as a kind of progress report over candles and cake each year. And in the third and last thread of the novel, Albom follows Eddie into heaven where the maintenance man sequentially encounters five pivotal figures from his life (a la A Christmas Carol). Each person has been waiting for him in heaven, and, as Albom reveals, each life (and death) was woven into Eddie's own in ways he never suspected. Each soul has a story to tell, a secret to reveal, and a lesson to share. Through them Eddie understands the meaning of his own life even as his arrival brings closure to theirs.

Albom takes a big risk with the novel; such a story can easily veer into the saccharine and preachy, and this one does in moments. But, for the most part, Albom's telling remains poignant and is occasionally profound. Even with its flaws, The Five People You Meet in Heaven is a small, pure, and simple book that will find good company on a shelf next to It's A Wonderful Life. --Patrick O'Kelley


Ok, I'm about to give some things away here, so, quit reading now if that's going to bother you. (Spoiler alert!)

Everyone that Eddie meets in heaven has something bad to say to him. Somehow, he messed up their lives. Ever since I read it, I've tried to put as much of the book as I could out of my mind, but here's one example: One day, a long long time ago, Eddie was driving carelessly, and in a very long and roundabout way, it caused the death of some guy who happened to be on or near the road at the time. Eddie never even knows that his actions caused this death. So, he's one of the people Eddie meets in heaven, and here's there to tell Eddie... what exactly? You messed up my life? Drive more carefully? What does it matter? He's dead already!

I just don't think heaven is like that. I'd like to think that when you die, anything that was really bothering you just melts away. You forgive and are forgiven. And, so, when you get to heaven, even if you run into your worst enemy from your time on earth, you'd be able to see them without any anger and without any feeling of, "Hey, let me rub your nose in what I think you did wrong."

I'll give you an example. It was an incredibly hot and humid summer day. I was driving home from a friend's house because I had finally decided to quit ignoring how sick I had been for days and go to the doctor. I was feeling really crappy, and the heat was only making things worse. All of the sudden, my car broke down, and I was forced to pull over to the side of the road. My car was overheating, I was overheating, and my cell phone battery was almost completely dead. I managed to get a call out for my car to be towed, but they told me it would be at least an hour. The road that I was parked on had a few homes on it, but I figured they were all empty since it was the middle of the day. I sat in my car, on the verge of tears, when I saw a car pull up to one of the houses, a woman got out, and went into the house. I sat there for a minute and decided I would go ring the doorbell. I figured I would ask if I could use the phone, maybe I could get a friend to come wait with me. I figured if she seemed really friendly, I'd ask if I could use the bathroom or have a glass of cold water. I noticed she had a Virgin Mary statue in her little garden, so I decided she wasn't the axe murderer type (not many women are).

I rang the doorbell, and she didn't answer. I thought maybe she was in the bathroom or something (I always have to pee as soon as I get home from work), so I waited a minute or two, and rang the doorbell again. She still didn't answer.

I gave up and went back to sitting in my car. I was upset, and sick, and frustrated, and hot.

For a few weeks after that, whenever I would drive by this woman's house, I would think about it. Sometimes I would think, "It was a hot day, maybe she jumped in the shower as soon as she got home, so she didn't hear the doorbell." Sometimes I would think about leaving a note in her mailbox, telling her that I thought she was a bad Christian.

But, after a few weeks, I just let it go. It just didn't matter. There's no sense holding a grudge, the only person you hurt is yourself. (I think the saying my grandmother used was "Holding a grudge is like swallowing poison and hoping the other person dies.") It didn't do me any good to give her house the evil eye every time I drove by, and it certainly do the woman any good.

But even if I wasn't able to let it go on my own (and what kind of miserable person would I be?), I would certainly hope that by the time I die and she dies, I'd be over it. I think that if I met her in heaven, many years from now, I'd say, "Hey, I know exactly where you're from - that's such a cute town! Did you ever go to that brick oven pizza place? It was great!"

In Mitch Albom's world though, I'd really rub it in her face. I'd tell her how sick I was, and how hot it was, and how upset I was, and how long I waited. How I thought that she should've noticed a stranger sitting in a car on a hot day and asked if everything was alright. That if she was such a good Christian, she would have recalled the many parables of the Bible that encourage hospitality to strangers in need. And, in Mitch Albom's world, she would have learned a lesson, or felt some regret. I just don't see the point of it, though.

I discussed this with a friend and she told me that I missed the entire point. "The point," she told me, "is that, while on earth, you should realize how your actions effect other people, even when you don't think they do."

But, really, I got that point, I just don't understand why they have to be negative things you did. For example, wouldn't you get the same point across by having someone meet you in heaven who says, "Hey, you never knew this, but remember that time I called you, and you took the time to listen to all my problems and gave me really good advice? I was feeling really depressed and alone. You really turned my life around. And I never really thanked you for that." Wouldn't that still get the same point across, that even little actions can have significant meaning to other people, even if you never recognize it? And yet, it would show heaven as more of a "Hey, just wanted you to know you did a good job down there" kind of place, rather than a "Hey, just wanted to point out a few places where you messed up, not that you can do anything about it now" kind of place.

So, I want to know, am I the absolute only person who read The Five People You Meet In Heaven this way? Did anyone else read it? Does anyone else agree?

As my torts professor always said, "Dispute!"

11 comments:

  1. Didn't read it, because my friends who did read it thought it was tripe.

    But if it's how you say it is, how horrible. I'm with you, I'm one of those people who tries to forgive and forget. Carrying a grudge just takes too much energy, and I don't have enough energy to go around these days.

    An aside: my all-time favorite depiction of what the afterlife will be like is in the Albert Brooks movie Defending Your Life. One of the best movies ever.

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  2. Thanks for the review, Blondie. This book landed on my "to read" pile. I'm glad to have an excuse to chuck it.

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  3. I hated it too! You should start a support group. My name is E. Spat and I hated a book that Oprah recommended. **golf claps all around**

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  4. So, it's kind of an inverted "It's a Wonderful Life?"

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  5. So, this is the part where I have to admit that I've never seen "It's a Wonderful Life."

    I bet this ends up being the thing that blows my anonymity, since I'm the only person ever who hasn't seen it.

    This Christmas, I promise.

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  6. Yeah, I haven't read it either, and now I have no desire to.

    The author is laughing all the way to the bank.

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  7. If all of the anecdotes are of a similar vein, it would have made much more sense for Eddie to have believed he led a virtuous (even if not excepetional) life, and upon dying found himself in hell. Questioning why he had been been sent there, he was introduced to these people who had their lives ruined through his own carelessness or inattention.

    "we're going to make you suffer until the person who wronged you dies" does not particularly match any description of heaven I'm aware of, and yet that sounds like an accurate assessment of what happened to the person whose encounter you described.

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  8. I couldn't finish it. I was hugely disappointed, in part because I had enjoyed Tuesdays With Morrie so much. I didn't expect it to be fantastic, because the premise sounded kind of lame, but I expected it to at least be quite good. I think I got through the second disc (I was listening to it on CD) before I decided I couldn't take it anymore. I have to say, I'm thrilled someone else hated it, too.

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  9. I liked it fine, but then, I got it way before the hype. I didn't read it as being negative, because in the end, there's redemption. The first few people he meets are people whose life he doesn't really know he affected. The last one is the girl he always supected that he hurt, and that suspicion bothered him for the rest of his life and into the afterlife, since he suspected that he failed to save another young girl. When he meets her in heaven, they quite literally shed the guilt and the fear in order to really appreciate the afterlife. There's another book, in an uber-sexed up fantasy trilogy, Kushiel's Chosen, that talks about "blood guilt." Long story short, the character is permitted to know how many are dead because of her, but she doesn't get to know how many are alive. That is what is missing from Albom's book. You get all these people who endure suckage cus of Eddie but Albom only tells you about the one good deed the guy pulls off.

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  10. I couldn't stand it. Not for the deeper reasons you mention (I didn't get far enough in) - I just found it mawkish, cloying, sentimental, goopy, saccharine, and the rest of the thesaurus article for "nauseating".

    And I'm usually the type who likes a good weep.

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  11. I agree entirely with MissPrism. I would have said trite, badly written, shallow, sophormoric, and one-dimensional, in addition to her criticisms. And I had never heard of it when I picked it up in the bookshop, so I had no expectations of the book.

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