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The greatest gift of all

Mitch Albom offers mixed blessings in his new novel “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.”

Imagine there are five people who can explain your existence. Then imagine your heaven is five situations that shaped your life and told from the point of view of the other person in that situation.

Mitch Albom, author of “Tuesdays with Morrie,” returns with a novel about an afterlife that’s not quite what they tell you in church.

“The Five People You Meet in Heaven” tells the story of Eddie, an embittered old man who, through his heavenly encounters, finally learns to let go of his pent-up anger and frustration.

Eddie’s been a maintenance worker at the same seaside amusement park since he was a teenager. He wanted to leave his hometown and become an engineer but, ironically, perfectly-timed twists of fate never let him escape.

He goes to work the morning of his 83rd birthday, and it is business as usual until something goes wrong with a ride and Eddie rushes in to help a little girl.

He wakes up in an amusement park ride from his childhood, and the aches and pains of his old age have somehow disappeared. Confused, he wanders around this vaguely familiar place until he meets someone he knew at a younger age. The man is the first of five people Eddie meets in heaven, for that’s just where he is. These five people, just five of the people Eddie saw, met or knew in his 83 years on Earth, comprise his heaven.

It’s one thing to paint a picture with words; it’s another to drown the storyline in a sea of flowing descriptions. Albom deserves his own Crayola box with his “shoe-leather brown,” “grapefruit yellow,” “misty pumpkin” and “hideous purplish.”

Albom doesn’t just sketch out a picture for his readers. He colors everything in while he’s at it, leaving no room for any interpretation other than what he’s already stamped out in black, white, pink and the rest of the colors in the spectrum.

Despite the lack of room for imagination, the book takes roller-coaster turns and gut-twisting falls. Not all of Eddie’s five people have happy stories to tell; a few make Eddie wish he’d gone the other direction instead.

He learns things he’d rather leave unknown. He learns the cause of his old war wound that robbed him of his strength and left him dependent on a cane. He learns what his actions in the Philippines did to an innocent child. He discovers the true cause of his father’s death, a death that forced Eddie into a life he didn’t want to live.

“The Five People You Meet in Heaven” might make you cry, but it will definitely make you take everyone more seriously. You never know if you’ll meet up with them again.

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