Woke Up in a Strange Place by Eric Arvin
Joe has indeed, as the title says, woke up in a strange place. The strange place is heaven, or rather, the afterlife. There aren’t exactly any pearly gates and Saint Peter is nowhere in sight. Joe is, at first, alone in a golden field of barley, with no memory of his former life or how he died, but soon he meets his quirky guide, Baker, and together they set out on a journey to rediscover the key people and events of his earthbound existence.
Joe’s challenge is to truly find himself, in almost the very literal sense, as he explores a world where the only limits are those that people place on themselves and the only real dangers are the things left undone.
“Woke Up in a Strange Place” is a very episodic tale as Joe meets the key people and remembers the experiences that shaped his life. Some of the reunions are joyous, some are bittersweet, and a few are downright melancholy. The prologue gives us an idea of where Joe needs to end up, but while there are a few surprises in store, in some ways it’s the journey that’s more important than the destination in this tale.
The writing of this book is quite lyrical. It flows easily, creating a rich tapestry in which you can easily imagine the surreal world in which Joe finds himself. At times, especially early on, it gets a bit too florid, using obtuse, uncommon words when simpler ones would probably be clearer, and once or twice getting it wrong – using a word that actually means the opposite of what the author appears to have intended. But such issues are minor, and subjective I admit. On the whole, this is a well-written and (unusually, these days) well edited work. What’s more, while the style remains consistent throughout, the tone of the writing changes from one episode to the next, as the mood changes. It can be playful in one chapter, and somber in the next.
So, if it’s so well-written, why aren’t I giving it five stars? Well, writing well is only part of the challenge to telling a good story, and earning five stars. You need to engage the reader, get them emotionally involved in the characters. While the journey is difficult for Joe, there’s an emotional distance between the reader and him. And although there are perilous moments, Joe’s already dead, so what can happen? We’re never really sure what the risk is if he doesn’t complete his journey.
There is a rather interesting message at the core of this story. I won’t spoil it by telling you what it is, but if you read the Amazon page linked below, you’ll probably see it. If the message didn’t strike me as particularly profound, it’s only because, wizened old fag that I am, I came to more or less the same conclusions more than thirty years ago, so there was nothing new here, for me. Twenty-something reader looking for some answers to life, the universe, everything, may find some clues here.
As much as I might agree with the message of this book, I suspect some people may grasp at the conclusion and miss the point. Most people seem to expect to be told the answers to all of life’s questions, but that’s not how it works. Joe wasn’t told anything. He had to make the journey, relive certain moments in his life, see the consequences of his actions, and even see how things might have been different before he could connect the dots and figure it all out. Everyone has to make their own journey. You might find clues in a book – Island by Aldous Huxley did it for me – but there are no shortcuts on your path.
You can find out more about Eric Arvin at his blog.
“Woke Up in a Strange Place” may be purchased from Amazon.