A far-fetched book of poetry that nonetheless delivers a valuable message of consolation to those who have lost loved ones.
In order to take seriously the poetry in Better World, one must get past its outlandish premise–one of its authors, Ricardo Petrillo, is dead, and the other, his father Claudio, "channels" his son’s verse from beyond the grave. Ricardo died in 2005, and an earlier volume of his posthumous work, Eternal Bonds of Love (2008), tells of his demise and his first after-death experiences. Better World, by contrast, is not quite so biographical, and it takes as one of its models Dante’s Divine Comedy. In that cornerstone of Italian literature, Dante is led through the afterlife–hell, purgatory and heaven–by two spirits who take him on a journey of dramatic spiritual growth. Similarly, Ricardo takes his parents to other dimensions, where they see souls being purified of their misdeeds. But this is no Inferno, where graphic punishment is doled out with malicious glee–the afterlife is rather understood as a place where one wins a purifying self-knowledge. This is a comforting thought, not only for bereft parents but for everyone. The poetry Claudio "receives" often reads like prose. It is unclear, for instance, why the following passage from "Students and Teachers" needs line breaks such as, "The coming out of darkness / Is always blissful / And for that we felt grateful / Even though we’re just beginning / To see the first rays of light." Ricardo might do better to "send" his next book in prose poetry, à la John Ashbery. Whether you believe that these poems are "channeled" from an afterlife or are instead the highly literate coping mechanism of aggrieved parents, one thing is clear–just as his mother and father hoped, "something good" has come from Ricardo’s death.
Implausible but laudable.