Although it is not talked about as much as it should be, the United States, Europe, and certain countries in East Asia are in the middle of a suicide epidemic. So-called “deaths of despair” are on the rise, especially among working class people without college degrees. This trend is likely to continue and possibly worsen thanks to the prolonged COVID-19 lockdowns. This information may seem tangential, but it is key to understanding author Thomas Duffy’s novel, HEAVENLY. There are several characters in the novel. The first is John Robinson, age 43. John is described in uncomfortable detail as the lonely everyman of the twenty-first century: employed, non-religious, single and still looking via dating apps, and an urbanite apartment dweller in Queens. John, the epitome of normalcy, gets a dose of irrational violence when he is struck in the stomach by a crook’s wayward bullet. Then there is Teresa. Like John and another character named Peter, Teresa uses Match.com in order to find love. Peter becomes obsessed with Teresa after their first date, but things go awry when Peter, a devoted Catholic, begins to feel guilty about sleeping with Teresa. For her part, Teresa has to deal taking care of her daughter as well as the death of a friend. These two issues drive Teresa to attempt suicide.
Death surrounds every character in Thomas Duffy’s HEAVENLY, but the novel shows that humans are not alone in death. God’s messengers come and speak to each character and tells them about the afterlife. HEAVENLY is not dogmatic and strays from the accepted teachings of the Christian religion (whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant), offering a sense of comfort by giving its grieving characters a chance to share their hurt. If nothing else, this novel exposes the tragedy of the modern age by examining how everyday people live and suffer, but also offers a glimmer of hope, with its conclusion a plea for positivity amidst darkness. But while the book’s messaging is wonderful its prose style is not. Told in the third-person, it more often reads like a New Age, stream-of-consciousness prose poem. There are certainly great characterizations here, but the sentences often get too wrapped up in unnecessary details or attempts to set the psychological stage for the actions of the characters. The emphasis on Kelly Clarkson’s song “Breakaway” is also off-putting.
Thomas Duffy’s short novel HEAVENLY sheds some warm light on a very dark topic and is full of interesting suggestions and solid character studies.
~Benjamin Welton for IndieReader