A sci-fi novel explores the importance of faith in a violent world.
Seib (Engravings, 2001, etc.) introduces readers to Steve Panailla, a photojournalist who sees plenty of desolation in his line of work. As Steve and his war-reporting colleagues attempt to get home for Christmas, they find themselves marooned in a run-down airport. In an attempt at holiday cheer, Steve’s associate hands him a manuscript he has written entitled The Smallest Angel. Readers are soon transported to a nondescript town where children play in treehouses and neighbors tend to know one another. It is here that siblings Jessica and Peter live with their widowed father, David. When a beautiful, ostensibly single woman named Nishka moves in next door, the stage seems set for a romantic comedy. All is not so simple, however. Nishka is quite an oddity. Her home is sparsely furnished, she never has any visitors, and her knowledge of love is limited at best. Though she develops a friendship with Jessica, an event soon occurs that is even more unsettling: the 9/11 terrorist attacks. While the characters attempt to adjust to an altered world, Jessica uncovers something even more surprising about Nishka. Whatever shall become of such a tangled web? Unapologetically tenderhearted, the story delivers action and twists. Though some characters, such as David, who is hesitant to date due to the “possibilities of being hurt again,” may be too one-dimensional, the narrative moves into places that few are likely to expect. Just when the reader thinks David and Nishka have finally made a connection, the plot takes a swift turn. Seeing it all through to the end does require patience, especially when a pastor gives a long sermon regarding 9/11 that includes a number of bland phrases like “Heroism has been redefined.” Surely such an idea could be conveyed by less obvious means, particularly when engaged readers will likely want to know when another dose of excitement will come their way. Still, for those unperturbed by such passages, the book culminates in just the type of ending that someone intrigued by the title will likely enjoy.
While slow at times, this sentimental book about a mysterious woman nevertheless manages plenty of surprises and an overall uplifting message.