Almost Heaven

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In ALMOST HEAVEN, Holden Garfield returns from Bosnia, where he was on assignment for a national news magazine, to stop into Washington, D.C., until his head clears. He has recently witnessed war crimes so personally disturbing that he cannot continue. When he calls friends to catch up, he finds that his oldest friend and mentor, Noah John, has a sister who has recently seen her husband and four children killed in a freak accident, and she has suffered total memory loss. Noah asks Holden to go to see his sister in a hospital in Richmond, Virginia.

As Holden is not intending to go back to work for the time being, he goes to Richmond. On the trip from D.C., the plane is hit by lightning, and one of the passengers suffers a heart attack, ending up in the hospital where John’s sister is staying. Holden gets to Richmond and meets John’s sister Melanie; they connect immediately, and Holden stays in Richmond to try to help Melanie find her way back.

From the beginning of the novel, Holden is acutely aware of the weather, and readers are continually aware of what the weather is doing, its effect on Holden and the space around him, and its metaphor in the lives and emotions of the characters. Pushed by the weather, Holden tries to make sense of his own empty emotional life, the horrors he witnessed in Bosnia, and his feelings for Melanie.

Marianne Wiggins is extraordinarily successful at bringing together Holden’s personal struggles, Melanie’s journey through lost memory, and the enormous power of the weather into a mesmerizing and riveting story.