Mitch Albom,
The Five People You Meet in Heaven
(Hyperion, 2003)

Mitch Albom,
For One More Day
(Hyperion, 2006)

Following Mitch Albom's international bestselling memoir, Tuesdays With Morrie, the newspaper columnist and author next ventured into fiction territory with two releases: The Five People You Meet in Heaven in 2003 and For One More Day in 2006. I'd like to think of these short novels, however, as more than mere fiction pieces. They're inspirational, they make you feel good, and especially in the case of For One More Day, they may in fact be based in truth. I decided to combine reviews of both novels into one, not only because I read them consecutively over subsequent days, but also because they seem to share much in common and could be fittingly described in a single critique.

Five People is a story about lonely amusement park maintenance worker Eddie, who dies one day -- his 83rd birthday -- while trying to save a young girl who faces certain death from a faulty ride plunging towards her body. When he awakens, he finds himself in Heaven, and learns it is a place where his life on Earth will be explained to him by five people who changed his life's path forever. And these people -- family, friends, even strangers -- also teach Eddie valuable lessons about life, including the ultimate reason for his existence, which Eddie assuredly would like to know given that he consistently feels like he is handed the wrong deck of cards time after time.

For One More Day, released three years later, concerns former pro baseball player Charley "Chick" Benetto, who, after failing to escape his miserable life -- an alcoholic, wife left him, only daughter hates him -- by committing suicide, reawakens the next day in the presence of his mother, who supposedly died eight years before. With one more free day with a past loved one, Chick is given the opportunity to make amends with a lost parent, to learn important family secrets and ultimately seek forgiveness. More interesting, though, is the fact that the story comes from a real person, who Albom happens upon one day at a baseball game. For One More Day is written in first-person by Albom through conversations with Chick and his unforgettable "experience" with his mother for one final day.

Given the incredible achievement that was Tuesdays With Morrie, a book that stands as one of my favorites, I held my second and third servings of Albom regrettably with very high expectations. And after giving myself time to reflect on both pieces, I feel like those expectations may have tainted my reactions to Albom's fiction. They simply weren't as good. Sure, maybe it isn't fair to compare fiction with a memoir, but I've found that novels based on real-life experiences -- like Tuesdays With Morrie -- will win every time.

With that being said, readers of Five People and For One More Day will still discover a lot to like here. Those familiar with Albom's style and prose in his debut will certainly find themselves in good company, as the author's experience with words -- both in newspaper and in novels -- is again clear. But even though both stories share similar uplifting qualities, I didn't find either one to be as compelling (or tearjerking) as Tuesdays With Morrie.

review by
Eric Hughes

30 August 2008

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