Does heaven exist? Are our loved ones waiting to reunite with us? Can near-death experiences offer proof?
In Hackett’s debut novel, everything hinges on an intriguing young boy, Colm, whose rare medical condition repeatedly causes him to die and return to life. Indeed, Colm physically manifests the dilemma each character in this novel faces: How can brain and heart, reason and faith, speak to each other? Except for Colm, the characters seem to have come from central casting. His mother, Cathleen, is a beautiful, self-sacrificing, long-suffering woman whose life revolves around her son. Lonely Cathleen carries on day after day in a dead-end job, worrying about her ill son, worrying about her brother (an alcoholic firefighter) and questioning whether science or God can heal her son. She has never recovered from being abandoned by Colm’s father, Pierce, yet her persistent attention to Catholic ritual and unwavering attention to her son lead her to Dr. Basu. The last in a string of doctors, Gaspar Basu is, of course, the only doctor to take her son’s condition seriously. Troubled by his own past, Gaspar is immediately attracted to Cathleen and concerned for Colm, because Gaspar feels responsible for his own son’s death and his own wife’s suicide. Cathleen and Colm offer Gaspar the chance to make amends with his past. Indeed, Colm’s illness becomes the blessing in disguise that heals everyone around him: Sean gives up drinking; Cathleen and Gaspar find love; and Colm himself discovers his own proof of heaven, meeting his long-lost father in the twilights between heaven and earth. The quest for a miracle in Assisi does not heal Colm, the pacemaker inserted by Dr. Basu does not cure Colm, but a road trip across America brings everyone together as a loving family. In the end, it is neither faith nor reason but love that saves everyone.
Colm’s medical condition and repeated resurrections offer intriguing narrative possibilities. But, weighed down by sentimental prose and predictable characters, Hackett’s premise stalls out.