Books like As It Is in Heaven

As It Is in Heaven

1999, Niall Williams

”When he went to university and began to study history, it was the now familiar presence of the disappeared that attracted him. He sat in the glass-fronted room of the library and lost himself with the ghosts of the previous three hundred years. He kept his head down and his eyes moving on the pages, but his mind took flight, and soon even his body was elsewhere, a fact noticed only by old Murtagh, the ancient librarian assistant, who himself had long ago vanished into the books of Thomas Hardy.”Whenever life has become too heavy, too tragic, I’ve always been able to save myself in books. I can for hours at a time transport myself to another time, another place, meet new friends, or unlike real life, battle defeatable villains. Stephen has the best of reasons for needing to escape into the pages of books. He has lost love and needs love, but doesn’t have the first idea about how to find it. Sometimes, when we are most helpless, fate lends a hand.As I was reading this book, I kept thinking about the song by Louis XIV called Finding Out True Love is Blind, which is a saucy little song about lust and love. The songwriter talks about all the unusually pretty girls he wants to make it with.\ Ah chocolate girl, well you're looking like something I wantAh and your little Asian friend well, well she can come if she wantsI want all the self conscious girls who try to hide who they are with makeupYou know it’s the girl with a frown with the tight pants I really want to shake upHey, carrot juice, I wanna squeeze you away until you bleed(finding out true love is blind)And your vanilla friend, well she looks like something I need(finding out true love is blind)I want miss little smart girl with your glasses and all your books(finding out true love is blind)And I want the stupid girl who gives me all those dirty looks\ This song would have made absolutely no sense to Stephen Griffin because the songwriter doesn’t say anything about the girl playing the violin in the green velvet dress. It is love at first sight or more correctly love at the first stroke of her bow. The music has slipped a blindfold over his eyes and left him trembling with the possibilities of love.After the death of his mother and sister in a car accident, both Stephen and his father are left shattered and hollowed out. They are sad, soul sad. Gloom hangs like black smoke over everything they do, over everything they feel, strangling hope and turning joy to dust. The father is willing himself to get cancer, and Stephen is merely going through the motions of living. ”There in the sunlight she looked at the pale man with the white face and thin black hair. He was transparent. There was about him such a pitiful shrinking from life…” as if he were expecting the final hammer blow to fall at any moment. By the fickleness of fate or maybe for this moment chaos had moved on to other victims, Stephen attends a concert, and for the first time hears the music of Gabriella Castoldi. She is lost as well, an Italian, who discovered her poet boyfriend didn’t love her anymore and allowed herself to be abandoned in Ireland. I have always been cynical about love at first sight. I usually refer to it as lust at first sight because it can only be based on how physically attractive we find this other person. Love, to me, always has to be built on more solid foundations than just an attraction to symmetrical features or an hourglass figure or broad shoulders. Niall Williams, in the land of fairies and sprites and leprechauns, almost convinces me that love at first sight is more like a cosmic meeting of old souls that recognize each other over and over again. Stephen morphs into Stephano and tries to become everything Gabriella needs. He is so needy and clingy that his attentiveness threatens to smother the fragile flame of early love. She is his life raft in the middle of an ocean of despair. When we fall in love, it is always interesting how clearly we see the rest of our life. When Stephano walks into the job he despises, it is with renewed purpose, bolstered by the gauze of love that has wound tendrils of steely determination into his heart and soul. ”I care about the history and the few who want to learn it. But what I have discovered is this: it’s not my life. It’s someone else’s life that I’m living, that I just fell into, the way people take wrong turns and don’t know it and just keep going because it’s too hard and frightening not to, and then they find themselves years later in some place they never wanted to be, with the regrets eating them up like cancers.”I am a product of being trapped by my own successes. I never wanted to be a circulation manager, and even when I took the job, I intended to only do it for five years at the most and then move on to something more interesting. I turned out to be pretty good at figuring out the problems inherent with the job and expanded the role. The company needed me and appreciated my efforts. I started making more money. At one point, I even felt confident in demanding more money, and the next thing I knew I was...stuck. I then doubled down and took advantage of an opportunity to become one of the owners of the company. I thought I’d be happier, but the thing of it is, I was never supposed to be a circulation manager. I’m living someone else’s life, and I’m sure many of the people who will end up reading this review will also be living a life they were never supposed to. Reading books is a way to escape the compromised life I’ve allowed myself to be trapped in. Writing reviews is a way for me to slip off the harness, to frolic with words, and even to convince myself for a while that I’m a real writer. Someday, maybe I, like Stephen can have the courage to break away and reach out for the ghost of myself that has proven so elusive.This is why we read fiction, isn’t it?If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.comI also have a Facebook blogger page at:

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