Thursday, July 03, 2008

Heavenly Love Story As Airy As A Cloud

(Image from Karen Neches' official website)

If you think Heaven is all about angels reclining on clouds plucking harps, you might want to think again. In Earthly Pleasures, novelist Karen Neches (who also writes under the name Karin Gillespie) introduces her less-conventional version of what lies beyond the Pearly Gates. Step into her Heaven and you'll find a glowing metropolis ruled by a female Deity who cracks corny jokes in the voice of Bette Midler. Here, souls teleport between work (as greeters, guardian angels, newscasters, etc.), school (where they can enroll in self [soul?]-improvement courses), and play (including cloud art and night clubs, where alcohol exists, but hangovers don't). It's a place where news reports are always positive, zits are nonexistent, and even rebellious angels can't get into too much trouble.

Skye Sebring loves her celestial life. She's got an exciting job as a greeter, a drop-dead gorgeous boyfriend, and an endless supply of Hershey's Kisses. Unlike many of Heaven's other residents, she has no interest in Earthly goings-on. That is, until Ryan Blaine steps into her cubicle. Ryan, the handsome son of a former U.S. president, sets hearts atwitter on both Heaven and Earth. Skye's determined not to be impressed, but he captures her attention when he exclaims, "I thought I'd never see you again" (58). Before he has time to explain, Ryan is zapped back to Earth. Skye shakes off the experience - she's never stepped on the planet, so obviously she and Ryan have never met - but she can't quite erase him from her thoughts. Suddenly, her interest in Earthly matters skyrocket.

A series of odd dreams unsettles Skye almost as much as her confusing encounter with Ryan. Then, to her shock, she receives an assignment to "return" to Earth. With no memories of a previous life, Skye begins questioning everything she thought she knew about herself. Who is she, really? And why does a mega-celebrity like Ryan Blaine recognize her?

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Ryan grieves for his wife, Susan. A recent brain injury has left her scarred and altered. In fact, Ryan feels as if he's living with a complete stranger - one who acts nothing like her old self. Their once vibrant relationship has become "like a gorgeous Oriental rug spread over a layer of dust and crud" (149). He wants to mend it, but the more he lives with Susan, the more he's convinced that something is seriously wrong. Ryan's not the only one who suspects things are not exactly as they seem. Miles away, Caroline Brodie can't believe her comatose roomie is a former prostitute and drug addict with no hope of recovery. She sets out to prove the doctors wrong, vowing to wake the young woman whose innocent face just can't be that of a lowlife druggie. Up above, guardian angels work overtime to help the Earthlings figure out the puzzle that will piece together Ryan Blaine's broken heart. With a little Divine Intervention, a whole lot of lonely hearts just might be able to find hope and love.

I enjoy the idea of a Heaven/Earth love connection; unfortunately, Earthly Pleasures doesn't quite deliver on its charming premise. I think Neches' idea of Heaven is fun, if simplistic and underdeveloped. It's when the action moves down to Earth that it becomes predictable, even cliche. I wouldn't have minded this, really, because the book is meant to be light and playful, but it gets so contrived I can hardly stand it. Plus, the plot meanders all over the place, introducing all kinds of subplots that are never quite wrapped up. Even the ending only concludes things on one plane, and ambiguously at that. I really wanted a final chapter explaining what happens to Heaven's residents, especially Chelsea, Rhianna, and Brock. Without this, the story ends too abruptly, never quite coming full circle.

If you can overlook these flaws, you'll find that Earthly Pleasures provides a sweet, hopeful story about the power of love. Just don't expect anything too heavy - this one is as light and airy as a cloud.

P.S. Did I mention how much I love the cover of Earthly Pleasures? It really is divine.

Grade: B-


2 comments:

  1. That is an interesting sounding read and one I probably wouldn't have looked at so thanks for the great review, I will try and get a copy.

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  2. Great review! I love the cover too - very pretty. The story sounds like it would be a fun one to read, so I will have to keep my eyes out! Thanks!

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