November 23, 2016

Closing Down Heaven

by Lesley Choyce
Red Deer Press
176 pp.
Ages 12-17
November 2016

I don't think I ever really felt fully alive
until that moment
I died.

                                                   (pg. 5)
When he wakes up, sixteen-year-old Hunter Callaghan doesn’t actually remember who he is or how he got there. “There” is a soft lawn amidst sunshine and quiet.  A man who says he can be called Archie helps Hunter remember a cycling accident off the beaten path in the woods where the teen had slammed into a rock face and died. Amidst the confusion of what is real and where he is and what he’s supposed to do now,

           More like a beginning
           because what I thought was the end
           (last breath, last heartbeat, famous last thought)
           was just a phase shift
           with                                 as Archie would say
           plenty of options. 
                                                                        (pg. 28)

Hunter is approached by a confused girl he recognizes as Trinity, a former classmate, who’d had problems at home and at school, with guys and with drugs.   Instructed by Archie to be Trinity’s guide, Hunter takes her for dates: bowling, for coffee, and for lunch at their school cafeteria. Learning of her unintentional suicide, Hunter declares that “Let’s be good to each other.” (pg. 59)  But this relationship is short-lived when Archie declares that, because of overcrowding and changes in people’s beliefs, they’re closing down heaven and sending people back.  As such, Hunter awakens badly injured but alive back at the rock face, and rescued, though

          I felt I was missing something.
         Something was not quite right.
         There was something I should be remembering. 
                                                                        (pg. 76)

A nerdy kid at school, Davis Cooper, approaches Hunter, knowing he’d been on the other side by the coppery aura he gives off. But when Hunter takes Davis to meet Trinity, they see an odd blue aura around her, which Hunter suspects is because she hasn’t died yet, and that it's his job to make sure she doesn’t.

The proverb may be that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but it seems that there’s a bypass to heaven that uses the same paving material.  Hunter knows his actions have consequences and that free will may trump destiny but situations are not always predictable and Closing Down Heaven is proof of that.

The beauty of a novel in verse that is written well is the compendious use of text rolled into a mellifluous form.  It packs a lot into a little.  It’s a trunk full of novel vacuum-packed into a pannier.  Very few people do it really, really well.  Lesley Choyce has demonstrated in Closing Down Heaven, as he did in Jeremy Stone (Red Deer Press, 2013), that he’s one of them.  Closing Down Heaven takes the reader on a graceful journey between heaven and earth, a road fraught with potholes but some lovely scenery.  Though not exactly a road trip story, Closing Down Heaven is still more about the journey than the destination, the life lived than the one extinguished.  Heaven help those who think otherwise.

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