This tale begins when an amusement park accident tragically kills Eddie “Maintenance", an eighty-three-year old man who dedicated his life to keeping the park safe for its hundreds of guests. From the start of this story, Eddie’s character is incredibly well-guarded; the reader learns very little about him other than that he is a simple and humble man who takes great pride in his established routine of reporting to work and caring for his family.
As Eddie reaches heaven, the setting for the majority of this novel, this shroud of secrecy is quickly removed. While there, Eddie gains insight into his life and, for the first time, sees how his actions impacted so many others. As he embarks on his journey, he meets five people, each of whom have been anxiously awaiting for his entrance into heaven.
Some of the people who initiate these meetings offer an extensive introduction since, when Eddie was alive, he was unaware of their existence. For others there is no need for an introduction since they played a prominent role in Eddie’s life. Each person reveals how Eddie’s life choices dramatically impacted their lives and we, as readers, are able to eavesdrop on his journey of self-exploration.
The underlying message of this book is certainly one that has been tackled before. It explores the notion that we are all connected to another so that an action undertaken by one person is destined to have an unanticipated and drastic influence upon someone else. Along these same lines, the book reminds us of how easy it is to fail to express appreciation or gratitude to those we love until it is too late to do so. Readers will likely feel saddened by some of these stories, since most illustrate that Eddie lived his life completely unaware of just how much he was treasured by his family and friends.
The Five People You Meet in Heaven, just like Mitch Albom’s bestselling predecessor, Tuesdays With Morrie, does tug at one’s emotional heartstrings. The problem here, however, is that the individual stories work too hard to elicit these intense emotions. Quite often the feelings seem forced -- so much so that the reader may feel manipulated into reaching this end result. Those readers who enjoyed his earlier work will likely enjoy this book to the extent that it, too, aims to tell a simple story with a far-reaching message. Others, however, will be disappointed, since this story is a failed attempt to emulate the tone and genuine emotion created by his previous bestseller.