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.