Packard’s (All it Takes, 2011) novel imagines an atheist’s experience in the afterlife.
Living out his waning years in an assisted living facility, 80-year-old Jack Treadwell isn’t surprised by his own death so much as he is by his final destination. As an atheist, he’s amazed to find himself in heaven, or at least a place that seems very much like it. Long-dead acquaintances and historical figures ranging from Abraham Lincoln to Studs Terkel traverse cloudlets, communicate freely and vanish as only spirits can. A figure resembling St. Peter informs Jack that his judgment—which will send Jack to eternal hell or eternal bliss—has been put on hold because God is in a sort of crisis. The creator of all things has become disillusioned with people. His teachings have been distorted by religion, his granting of free will to humans has resulted in centuries of bloodshed, and people like Jack think they can simply apologize for their misdeeds and receive eternal salvation. As Jack reflects on his time on Earth and learns more about the reality of the afterlife, readers are taken on a journey of personal inquiry featuring familiar feelings of guilt for past wrongs. Readers with undeveloped (or indifferent) ideas of the afterlife will likely relate to Jack and his concerns. How “good” does one have to be to enter the kingdom of heaven? Jack’s cloudlet surfing can prove dull at times, as when he takes a brief walk with Charles Darwin—a stimulating idea that may prove too heavy-handed for some. Nevertheless, Jack’s vision of the afterlife is decidedly as worrisome and varied as the character himself.
Slow at times, though the heartfelt glimpse of the afterlife and fears of judgment will strike a chord with many readers.