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The Five People You Meet in Heaven

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OK, I gotta tell you up front, there ain't any gay stuff in this novel. It's a very thin, slim pocket-sized book, very short, but I found it to be one of the most profound and moving stories I've read all year.

The plot is deceptively simple: an elderly amusement park maintenance man dies while trying to save a small child on a malfunctioning ride. After he dies, he meets several people who basically tell him what the point of his life was, and how everybody's lives intersect on some level, along with the lessons learned from each experience. Much of the story is told in flashback, and as the tale unfolds, we learn about the man's family, his relationships, and the people around him, and how all of them are affected by events (good and terrible) over the years.

I had stayed away from this book for years, partly because it was an enormous best-seller, and partly because I thought it'd be one of those cornball, new-agey "feel good" kinds of things, like a printed version of cotton candy. I was totally wrong. Five People has moments that are downright mean and gritty, even horrifying, and there's not a false note or anything corny to be found anywhere. All the emotions ring very true, and the story ultimately leads to a very moving finale, but perhaps not what you'd expect. A lot of it reads like an excellent hour-long episode of the old Twilight Zone show, but presenting the audience with a lot of profound moral issues that really make you stop and think.

Author Mitch Albom is an exceptionally-talented man; the subtleties and descriptive power of his prose are impeccable. Every character seems very alive and real, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem. Any budding author could learn a great deal just by observing how beautifully Albom crafts each sentence.

Anybody who reads Five People and doesn't come away affected in some way has got to be made of stone. I'm buying a half-dozen copies and giving 'em away as Xmas gifts.

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