A fast-paced fantasy novel about suicide and what comes after.
Steven, the narrator of Stevenson and Azad’s engaging fiction debut, just killed himself. It’s an unusual storytelling twist, one that, had this book been written at almost any other point in Christianity’s 2,000-year history, would have been followed by Steven finding himself in hell (in the Seventh Circle, according to Dante), destined to spend eternity being punished for the sin of self-murder. But in this novel’s much warmer, more humanistic world, Steven—a foulmouthed, excitable 34-year-old with a heart of gold—awakens in heaven, assured by both God and Jesus (who’s nicknamed “Junior”) that there is no actual place of eternal damnation. “[H]ell can be anywhere,” he’s told, with the shrewd elaboration: “Right before you pulled that trigger, I’m sure that you would describe how you were feeling as something close to what has been described by others as hell.” And this isn’t the only variation on standard Christian theology in this remarkable book; in a nod to Eastern mythologies, souls here—including Steven’s—return to the world again, to live new and hopefully better lives. Over the course of the novel, Steven has many lively conversations with God and Jesus on a wide range of philosophical subjects, and he’s given plenty of straightforward advice that will resonate with the book’s Christian readers, especially those whose lives have been touched by suicide. Steven is assured that “wonderful things will happen to you every day if you stick around and keep exploring your own mysteries,” and his life “will be better spent down there if it is an activity that results in a story, and not the other way around.” Whether Steven will succeed in his new life —i.e., put away childish behavior, live in faith, maybe even this time win the love of a pretty girl—isn’t clear. It rarely is.
A strangely effective blend: an optimistic book about suicide.