September 12th, 2008
Ideas of Heaven, published in 2004, is a beautiful short story collection by the author of The Size of the World (2008). Like the latter book, also highlighted on this blog, Ideas of Heaven is a series of inter-connected stories. Each story stands alone, but is often connected to a later story by a character or idea. Likewise, the themes of all the stories deal with loss, and the manner of dealing with that loss often involves spirituality. People differ in their “ideas of heaven,” but faith plays a role for all in this book.
But how does religion, or even a philosophy, figure in the lives of the characters? It differs from story to story. In “My Shape,” a young girl, Alice, studies ballet and visits all houses of worship—Jewish, Catholic, Greek Orthodox. As with all the characters in this book, she is looking for something she ultimately finds within herself—an acceptance of her body, and an ability to love in an emotionally healthy relationship. She finds that love in the last story.
In “The High Road,” Alice’s former sadistic dance instructor finds a certain peace in abstinence, and come to accept the rejection by a younger man. One feels a certain gratification that this character learned a crucial lesson in humility after his cruel arrogance toward female dancers.
There is a short story about Gaspara Stampa, the medieval Italian poet. The title story deals with a missionary family in China. The final story concerns the waning of love in a marriage, and the sudden jolt of hidden feelings when the mate dies. It also nicely links the first story with the concluding one.
The writing in this collection is as melodic as that in The Size of the World. The stories flow into one another in a satisfying weave.
Find Ideas of Heaven in our catalog.