Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Book Review: Descriptions of Heaven

Book Review: Descriptions of Heaven by Randal Eldon Greene 

Goodreads Description: A linguist, a lake monster, and the looming shadow of death—news of an unknown creature in the New Bedford Lake coincides with news that Natalia’s cancer has returned.

On the shores of the lake in a strange house with many secret doors, Robert and his family must face the fact that Natalia is dying, and there is no hope this time. But they continue on; their son plays by the lakeside, Natalia paints, Robert writes, and all the while the air is thick with dust from a worldwide drought that threatens to come down and coat their little corner of green.

A lament for what is already lost and what is yet to be lost, Descriptions of Heaven leaves only one question to be asked: What’s next?

My Review: I was given an advanced reader's copy of Descriptions of Heaven by the author in exchange for an honest review. 

Descriptions of Heaven is a beautifully written novella featuring Robert and Natalia, a young couple living with their son in their lake house. As Natalia's cancer returns and her death seems inevitable, Robert struggles to explain her death to his young son, Jesse, while simultaneously coping with the loss of his lover. 

First and foremost, this novella has gorgeous prose. The author has an obvious love of language and it shows through vivid descriptions and a wide use of vocabulary. I can see some readers being put off because it can come across as "purple prose" at times. There were a few moments where I wished the author took a single step back, as it felt a tad overkill. Despite that, the superfluous prose was not boring or took away from the story. Rather, the story itself was about the love of language, as Robert is a writer and a linguist, so the quiet introspection about life spaced throughout feels fitting. Aside from feeling it was a tad much at times, I loved the author's prose and his style in general. Greene makes poetry of his prose and commands the page. For that reason alone, it was a joy to read. 

The story itself is very wistful and speculative. The main character spends a lot of time pondering life and death, as can be expected, and makes lots of observations about the world. The story's strength definitely lies in its quieter moments, and there are plenty of them. Unfortunately, the story lacks a bit of the side of action. Even in scenes where there is more action, such as when Natalia discovers an intruder in the home, the action is glossed over and minimized to focus instead on the characters reflecting and discussing the scene afterwards. I felt that these are missed opportunities. If the author had put a bit more focus on the action and tension in those scenes, fully embracing what is happening, then the quieter scenes to follow would have had more punch as well. 

Descriptions of Heaven is a soft, beautiful narrative that left me wistful and lingering on the last lines. It didn't feel incomplete as a story, but I was still left rereading the last few paragraphs, as if I was searching for something. The best way to describe the feeling this novella left me with would be the emptiness and incompleteness when a loved one is lost. Though I wasn't heart broken by Natalia's death, I found myself searching for the meaning in her death just as Robert did. But there isn't much meaning in death, especially untimely death, which I believe Greene captured perfectly. 

TL;DR: 3/5 stars. A lovely novella exploring life and death through the love of language.