REVIEW: The First Phone Call From Heaven by Mitch Albom

Published:12th November 2013

Publisher: Harper Audio

Format: Audio Cd (7 Discs) borrowed from Library

RRP: $39.99

3/5

The First Phone Call from Heaven tells the story of a small town on Lake Michigan that gets worldwide attention when its citizens start receiving phone calls from the afterlife. Is it the greatest miracle ever or a massive hoax? Sully Harding, a grief-stricken single father, is determined to find out. An allegory about the power of belief – and a page-turner that will touch your soul – Albom’s masterful storytelling has never been so moving and unexpected.

Readers of The Five People You Meet in Heaven will recognize the warmth and emotion so redolent of Albom’s writing, and those who haven’t yet enjoyed the power of his storytelling will thrill at the discovery of one of the best-loved writers of our time.

Mitch Albom is an author I’ve wanted to read for years. Having previously published so-called masterpieces/ must-reads like Tuesday’s With Morrie and the Time Keeper, books I have heard people rave about for years, I went in with high expectations. And a week post finishing the audio version of this book, I’m still not entirely sure what I thought or how I felt about it given it’s hype and the author’s reputation.

Simply put The First Phone Call From Heaven is based upon a simple, yet entirely unique concept; In Coldwater, Michigan, seven unsuspecting residents  receive phone calls from their dearly departed loved ones leading the world to argue the validity and prospect of this so called miracle. In essence the story examines the premise through a town of divided everyday men and women, asking how did this happen and what does it mean? At times I had no clue where Albom was going to take this story or what the larger message of the narrative would imply, but as I made my way through each disc I began to realise that while Albom created a simply story in premise, it was really anything but in reality. Albom essentially put the world’s religions and humanity under a microscope so that he could dissect the concepts of  faith vs beliefs, small towns, family dynamics, love, grief, the grey areas of morally right and wrong and what it really means to live.

There were times when I had no idea where Albom was going with this story. If I’m really being honest, there were a lot of times that I had no idea where he was going. With the narrative focusing on a larger number of first-person point-of-views and convictions, it becomes disjointed and hard to put together. There are so many main stage characters that it was even difficult to keep the characters straight in my head and more than once I wished the main cast had been reduced somewhat significantly. What’s more I was never given enough of any of the characters to really empathise with them on any sort of emotional level. Sure I felt sorry for Sully and I though the police chief and his budding romance was adorable, but it wasn’t enough for me to be wholly invested in the story’s outcome. I was intrigued yes, and because of that willing enough to follow it through to it’s conclusion. But I could of just as easily have shelved it for a time as well.

One thing I did particularly love about this book however was the way Albom casually passed commentary and judgement on social media and it’s impact on the broader community. Through the religious and controversial aspects of this narrative, he examines the way in which today’s society is all too willing to believe everything on the Internet and not check the fact. No one doubts the so-called news story that’s gone vial on say Facebook. We just hit like and share it with our friends and family without every checking it’s validity or accuracy. What’s more through the massive media frenzy sparked by the phone calls, Albom highlights the impact of the news and it’s so called practices (sensational news stories, politics and moneys vs hard cold facts and the truth and the impact on society and individuals when these facts aren’t considered/checked).

I also really liked the way Albom handled the sensitivity of different religions and included a wide range of religious beliefs in the story. But perhaps my favourite part of the story was the way that Albom carefully, and with meticulous timing, intercepted the main story with that of the telephones invention, development and general knowledge. I really enjoyed learning about the every day instrument and how it came to be, and found it amazing that there over 600 lawsuits fighting it’s originality. It was just really intriguing stuff that I hadn’t learnt before, or even thought to look up.

The audio book was narrated by Mitch Albom himself which was kind of cool in many ways, least of all being that it was like being privileged enough to hear an author read aloud their story the way they originally intended it and heard it themselves. Albom did a fantastic job at acting out the character voices and keeping the pace and flow of the story going. My biggest pet peeve with the form was that harperaudio don’t put music at the end of the disc or announce that it’s the end of the disc. While this normally wouldn’t seem like a big deal, you have no idea how frustrating it is to be listening to the disc in the car with a CD player that automatically starts right back at the beginning with no warning. Maybe I’ve been spoilt with past audio books. I don’t know.

In what could of easily been a very religious and morally right and wrong narrative, Mitch Albom has successfully created a well-balanced and superbly crafted (at times) story of individuality and unique appeal. Not everyone will agree on the religious aspects or some of his finer points, but no matter what your personal views are on the topic, there is something in here for every reader. While it’s true I was mostly confused and hesitant when the story started, the end third of the book did hold me captive and on more than on occasion while driving I found myself yelling at the stereo and guessing who/what was behind the calls.

While The First Phone Call From Heaven may have been my first Mitch Albom book and a bit of a hit and miss in parts, I’m still looking forward to tracking down some of his older works in the future and giving them ago.

To learn more about Mitch Albom, visit the following social media sites:

Author Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr | Google + |

To purchase a copy of the book, visit the following online retailers:

Print – Booktopia | BOOK DEPOSITORY | Worderly | Angus & Robertson’s Bookworld | QBD |

Audio Book –  Booktopia |BOOK DEPOSITORY 

 

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