As Bright as Heaven. Susan Meissner. Penguin Publishing Group. February 2018. 400 pp. ISBN#: 9780399585968.
Pauline, Thomas and their three children move to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania so that they can have a better life. This opportunity arises out of the kindness and generosity of Thomas’s Uncle, a mortician who is childless and wants to leave his business to Thomas. Before they came, this family lost a child, Henry, but rather than fearing what lies ahead in taking on the learning of how to prepare dead people for final viewing and burial, Pauline is more than open to the idea and oddly calm. For she believes Death is a constant spiritual presence in her life since she lost her son and thinks she will hear a message at the right time.
Readers may have heard the famous poem about death having no sting or power, and this comes to mind as the children, Evelyn, Pamela, and Willa, not only adapt to their father’s new job but also want to be a part of it. They not only follow the lead of their parents but also seem to have an uncanny perception that death is not to be feared. They are about to be sorely tested!
No spoilers here, but suffice to say that the coming of the Spanish flu epidemic to Philadelphia in 1918 almost defies description but the author deftly presents the overwhelming nature of this catastrophic illness. The family will suffer more staggering losses but will also gain a child who they adopt after mysterious circumstances, an occurrence that will come full circle years later.
There is a lightness to the way this story is presented that is almost beautiful, hardly a word one would think of in the face of such a disaster for thousands of people. Each child is obviously so touched by this historical event that it affects their future career choices. While it might seem contrived at times, Meissner manages to favorably wrap all the loose ends together by the end of the story.
As Bright as Heaven is certainly a memorable novel that highlights character and historical event development – highly recommended historical fiction.