Proof of Heaven: A Novel by Mary Curran Hackett (William Morrow; $14.99; 336 pages)
Grief never ceases to transform.
Mary Curran Hackett has drafted a stirring and remarkable, life-affirming novel. This is the story of a very sick and courageous five-year-old boy, Colm, who suffers from a rare disease that will kill him within two years. He knows this and wants simply to see the father he’s never known before he departs this earth.
Colm’s mother, Cathleen, is an intensely religious Irish-American Catholic woman who will do anything to extend her son’s life, although she knows that “if her son were a dog, they would have put him out of his misery already.” This includes taking him on a pilgrimage to the Abbey of San Damiano in Italy in the hope that Colm will be cured by a miracle.
Colm was one of a kind.
Colm’s disease is idiopathic, meaning that its origins and treatments are unknown to the medical world. Colm suffers strokes which put him into a condition of appearing to be dead before he returns to consciousness. Colm believes that he has literally died on at least one or two occasions, and comes to accept that there’s nothing waiting for him after his death.
Colm (pronounced “calm”) is quite reminiscent of the character Tim Farnsworth in the novel The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris. Farnsworth comes to give up hoping that the medical profession will save him, and he remains – despite having a wife and family – ultimately alone in his struggle against a unique, crippling disease. Colm also thinks of himself as being alone, despite the smothering efforts of Cathleen to protect him, until a potential savior – a physician – arrives on the scene.
Dr. Gaspar Basu is a man who lost a son at an early age in India, and comes to love Colm as a type of replacement for his late son Dhruv. Dr. Basu also comes to fall in love with Cathleen. And so, he installs a pacemaker in Colm’s chest – in the hope of preventing further near-death experiences for Colm and agrees to accompany Colm and Cathleen on their journey to Italy. Dr. Basu also joins with Colm’s uncle in supporting Colm’s efforts to find his father who was last known to be living as a musician in Los Angeles.
…by Colm’s seventh birthday he hadn’t had any other near-death experiences after leaving Italy. To Cathleen it was a sign that God was answering some of her prayers. Colm may not have been physically healed, but at least he hadn’t died again. Perhaps the worst was behind him. Perhaps the miracle took…
The other details of the story should be left for the reader to discover. Kudos to Hackett for presenting a real world, gritty, yet soaring tale in which humans must make their own choices between hope and hopelessness (in a spiritual sense). And rest assured that once you’ve finished reading Proof of Heaven you may well look at life and its inevitable conclusion in a new way.
He had loved her. She had loved him.
It was enough.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
“…it was the tale of one boy’s search for heaven that brought me to tears. I loved this book.” Shelley Shepard Gray, author of Christmas in Sugarcreek