2017 Book Log #01: The First Phone Call from Heaven by Mitch Albom
Rating: 3/5 stars
The First Phone Call from Heaven tells the story of a small town, Coldwater, in Michigan that gets worldwide attention after seven people have claimed to be receiving phone calls from their departed loved ones giving them reassuring messages about the afterlife and giving them words of encouragement to go on living their lives. It is penned to be one of the greatest miracles that has ever happened in their town or perhaps the world. Is it real or is it a hoax? While everyone in town believes to have witnessed a rare miracle in town, Sully Harding, a grieving husband fresh out from jail for a crime he did not commit, thinks so otherwise. He believes that these miracles are just a fraud played by someone in town and tries to prove to his son (and more to himself) that miracles are not true and these phone calls from heaven are just man-made.
The book has a very interesting premise, the kind that stirs the reader’s curiosity, even with the title alone, and touches one’s faith about what we believe about the afterlife, or whether we believe it at all. It is mostly an easy read, as the chapters have the feel of a short story which aims to blend inspiration, theology, and philosophy in a fictional plotline. The story creates some thought-provoking scenarios which can make the reader reflect on it in the different facets of their own life aside from spirituality.
I like the back-story of Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, in some of the chapters, but mostly, it doesn’t really have to do with the original story that Albom wants to tell. The story get’s confusing at times when it comes to the point of view. There is a constant, and too many shifting of point of view. You would begin reading a chapter and realize only who is in it, or whose thought you are reading the moment you read the name of the character on the text. There are no cues when the POV shifts, which could really get confusing at times.
The characters in the story are relatable, especially Sully Harding. His grief and frustration is portrayed well. But I feel less for the other characters, especially some of the seven people who received the ‘phone call’ but their story isn’t developed. It may be because of the constant shifting of the POV. However, the myriad of characters exposes the flaws of human nature—how some people judge those who don’t go to church, how imperfect and selfish the church leaders may be sometimes, how selfish we are as humans, and how our faith, or lack of, can easily turn us blind from what is real and not.
The book channels Dan Brown, as it became, in the end, more mystery than inspirational and has spirituality as one of the ground of the story. It doesn’t impose a single idea of what we should believe about death, heaven, afterlife, and God. The readers are given the liberty to believe what they would want to believe.