A law professor sets out on a philosophical quest, examining the nature of the afterlife.
This novel opens in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where professor Pete Herlinger has been in a coma for five years, since the car accident that wiped out his entire family in an instant. To the amazement of the hospital staff, he one day begins waking up, asking about his family—his parents, wife, and child were all in the car with him. His first heartbreaking realization is that they are all gone. He has no religious consolation: in fact, the conversation in the vehicle immediately prior to the crash heatedly revolved around the fact that, much to the outrage of his parents, Pete and his wife were raising their son to think God is basically a myth. After he wakes up, Pete finds himself in the unexpected position of yearning for any kind of afterlife in which his loved ones still survive. “Heaven is my family in the car before the crash,” he muses. “Heaven is my wife beside me, my son and parents in the back seat…enjoying their company, forever.” Ironically, given his previous state of nonbelief, Pete now embarks on “a good psychic freak-out,” visiting an afterlife like no religion has ever dared to imagine, a surreal, godless world where individual fantasies play out with endless abandon. His guide is his father, a transsexual now free to be—and appear as—a beautiful woman. The more Pete learns about this realm, the stranger it seems to him, especially with a mysterious figure known as the Commissar playing devil’s advocate. (“There is energy, there is dissipation,” he asserts. “There is nothing else.”) Author and Emmy Award–winning screenwriter Osborne (Blue Estate, 2014, etc.) conveys all of this with a thoroughly practiced hand. The characters stand out, the brisk pacing—particularly the comic beats—is spotlessly achieved, and the dialogue is crisp and compulsively readable. At one point, Pete and his father discuss the concept of reality. Dad: “For what it’s worth, a handy definition of Reality is precisely that which does not cease to exist when you stop believing in it.” Pete: “Philip K. Dick?” Dad: “Ah...so you’ve heard that one before.” Religious and atheist readers alike should find their certainties wonderfully upset.
A terrifically energetic, modern update of Dante.
Article first published as Book Review: ‘Building Heaven’ by Andrew Osborne on Blogcritics.
“Building Heaven” by Andrew Osborne is a distinctive existential thriller exploring different concepts and possibilities of an afterlife.
What happens after we die? Do we cease to exist? Is there a heaven and a hell? Reincarnation? What is the point of everything – or anything? Osborne offers just about every imaginable situation through multiple points of view, while focusing on one man’s precarious journey as he struggles to answer these fundamental questions – questions considered by most people at some point in their lives.
From all appearances, Pete Herlinger has a normal life with the whole package: a successful career, loving wife, exceptional child, and doting parents. Five years after a fatal car crash while on a family vacation, Pete makes his transition from Earth and the journey begins.
Every aspect of this book is phenomenal. There was not one thing I did not like about it, with the possible exception of it ending too soon. The writing is brilliant and mesmerizing, capturing me from the very beginning with a unique style and delivery. The author builds a clever descriptive world in “The Place” where souls congregate in the story. I actually felt myself slip into the experiences exposed through the characters. Speaking of which, the characters are amazing! Relatable, realistic, witty, cunning, evil, humorous, infuriating, the list is never-ending, spellbinding me throughout the narrative. Love them or hate them, one thing is for sure–readers will connect with these characters.
Though “Building Heaven” is his first novel, Andrew Osborne is an Emmy Award winning writer, with works that include a play, film, comics, a game show, and interactive scripts. I do hope Osborne continues to write novels – his command of the English language and storytelling craft is exceptional. I highly recommend “Building Heaven.” It is a totally enthralling story that will stick with you long after you finish reading, as you contemplate your own beliefs of what happens when we leave this world. Truly remarkable reading.
An astonishing exploration of human imagination, longings, and illusion. Mr. Osborne delves into worldviews, self-images, cultural biases, and personal baggage. Then he reveals the ultimate malleability of eternity, and he does all of that so smoothly that one is vertiginous before realizing what a roller coaster of a ride they have been strapped into.
What happens after death? Do we simply wink out as our physical brain ceases to offer a matrix for our mind? Is there such a thing as a soul, and if there is, can it be lost after death? How much does our religious/cultural conditioning shape our afterlife? What does an atheist do when they arrive in “Heaven”? Is there reincarnation? A Hell? Are we the only sentients who share the afterlife? Can you lose yourself, your identity, forever? All of these questions and more are laid out with superlative showing. Each is answered, then revealed as illusion, then reinvented with any number of twists.
The first thing I noted on opening this thought trap was that the lines of text were spaced as if it were a manuscript rather than, as is typically done, cramming them together. It was refreshing and made for speedy, effortless reading. Overall use of formatting was smoothly professional. But there were some places where expanded, over-bolded text was employed for literal pages to convey the intensity of one fugue state or another; in those places sometimes words ran into each other without spacing. That experimental formatting was jarring, breaking the continuity and ease of immersion. Forgiveness inevitably followed as the story again seized and wrenched.
The old Egyptian concept of seven souls with differing characters and destinations is employed for major changes of direction; a lesser author would have used mere chapters.
Pete Herlinger is waking from years of coma, just discovering the losses of his parents, wife, and daughter. He is physically wasted, mentally devastated, and must cope with being alive while longing for death. His longing is fulfilled, and in his first exposure to the afterlife, the natures of his beloved family are revealed. He discovers the true sexuality of some, the innocent fragility of others, and the necessity to pierce through reality. Does he? Even he does not know, after all of that, and neither does the reader.
One final question: can Heaven itself die if mankind solves death? Is it a Ponzi scheme of souls?
Remember that roller coaster? This is one superbly hellacious ride!!