How to waste a box of Kleenex

I started and finished Charlie St. Cloud (2004) by Ben Sherwood yesterday.  (The novel, not the movie.)  It wasn’t high on my must-read list, but after trudging through Dickens, I thought some fluffier fare was in order.  Generally I’m suspicious of franchises associated with the teeny-bopper stars (you know who they are; Zac Efron would be one of them even if he does have rather dreamy eyes.  But I digress.)

I think the cover was geared more towards the teenage set rather than my geriatric crowd of 30.

I did read it in short time, but it wasn’t fluffy, if I could judge from the sheer amount of Kleenex (Kleenexes?) on the floor.   In fact, I emptied the box (though to be fair, it wasn’t full.)  I haven’t bawled my eyes out over a book since I read The Book Thief (2005) by Marcus Zusak, which is probably my FAVOURITE book published in the last 10 years.  (Really, READ it!  Death is the narrator and it revolves around Germans living through WWII.  But I digress.)

So I’m reading this book, sniffing and snarking like a sap, and even missing my long-lost pets (animals always do it to me and a little beagle dies in the book.)  This is called making connections, the painful part of sad stuff because it connects you with your own memories of loss.

The movie received 27% from Rotten Tomatoes for being “too shallow and cloying” and some thought it was too much like some of Nicholas Sparks works (I’m thinking Message in a Bottle.)

However, I found the book, though not particularly probing (after all, it’s a quick read and not at all Dickens-like or even Zusak-like) an interesting look at how humans can interact with the dead.  Even if some of the book doesn’t seem particularly plausible at points (it would spoil them to give these points away), it presents an alternate view of spirituality.  Instead of going straight into the great white light, spirits linger “in between” until they are ready to move on.

If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book (though the book is quite different from the movie, as they always are), Charlie and his brother Sam are in a car crash.  Sam dies, but doesn’t move on.  Instead, Charlie gets a job at a cemetery, and meets with his brother’s spirit every night for a game of catch.

Okay, okay, I thought this was uber-corny too, but it does work (mostly because the characters get sick of it too.)  It does a good job of representing the inability of some people to move on after their loved ones die.  However, Sam can’t move on to heaven either, and exists in this sort of limbo, playing catch every day with his brother.

Then a girl comes along.  Actually she’s a woman.  A sailor.  I can’t give too many points away, but there’s some question whether she’s a real live human or a spirit in this in between zone.

Just think about it.  How would you feel after you died?  Would you want to stay with the people you love?  Or would you accept the fact you’re dead?   Many of the spirits in this book are even at their own funerals, mulling over their untimely ends.  (Don’t you wish you could be at your own service?)

What struck me most, though, about this in between existence was that the spirits suffer along with the living.  Generally, in our Christian culture, when you die and go to heaven, everything’s just fine and dandy.  This book challenges that.

Makes sense.  I’ve always thought that dying, especially at a premature age, would be stressful even for the dead.  How can you love people so much, then, in a moment, be expected to part with them and feel all happy and sunshine and rainbows?

Now I don’t know what happens after death.  For that matter, no one can because we’re all alive.  But I enjoy reading about the possibilities that might exist.

If you want another view of the afterlife, try What Dreams May Come, which was made into a movie starring Robin Williams.  He dies in a car crash too.  What is it about car crashes?  And in Just Like Heaven/If Only it Were True, the main character (played by Reese Witherspoon in the movie) gets into a crash and her comatose spirit communicates with the living!  That’s it.  Never driving.  Ever.  Again.  But I’m digressing again and I’m not even in parentheses.

To summarize, even though there is a melodramatic, sappy element to Charlie St. Cloud, I have a feeling I’ll be remembering the book for some time.  Not only because I used a tree’s worth of Kleenex, but because it allowed me to trudge through the possibilities of what could exist after death.  And if it happened to come in a book with Zac Efron on its cover, well so be it.  It can’t be helped.  I think there’s a saying about that somewhere, something to the effect of: Don’t judge a book with Zac Efron on its cover.

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