Mitch Albom’s books are one of my guilty pleasures. I have read most of them with a view to indulging myself in someone else’s view of faith, whilst also recognising in myself as a result, a knowledge of my own spirituality. It is usually quite a comforting experience which leaves me feeling warmer and more secure. I like it.
However, The First Phone Call From Heaven did not produce the same effect in me as described, as I would have expected. It’s not that it’s a bad book; it just didn’t get to me, move me, touch me in the same way. It was alright, simple as that.
The story centres around phone calls which people are receiving from their dead loved ones and the furore that transpires after this is made public. Some of the recipients are ecstatic at communicating once more with the dead whereas others are unsettled by it, understandably. Sully Harding is not one of the receivers of calls but he is very much interested in what is happening, himself a widower with a young son who very much misses his dead mother. Sully’s back story is revealed by degrees throughout the book and he is the one who is most concerned with discovering whether the calls are, in fact, a hoax.
There is a predictable media storm, resulting in chaos and the urge for proof, and Coldwater becomes the centre of the world’s attention. Albom leads us to a satisfying conclusion which surprises whilst revealing the truth, and there is the idea that all is going to be okay.
There is nothing that Albom could have done differently but I can’t help comparing my reading of this to the way that I felt when I watched The Wizard of Oz. It’s left me feeling just a little disappointed.
I liked the characters and Sully’s determination to investigate; every story of this nature has to have a sceptic. You get a genuine sense of how much these people want this to be true and it is easy to sympathise with their longing to reconnect with people who have been reduced to memories and photos. I liked the human aspect, the development of relationships resulting from this shared experience and the examination of how issues around God and the afterlife can divide, sometimes becoming violent. But, for all that, it was not a book I loved.