Friday, September 19, 2014

'Almost Heaven' by Chris Fabry

2011 ECPA Christian Book Award winner for fiction! 2011 Christy Award Winner for contemporary standalone novel.Billy Allman is a hillbilly genius. People in Dogwood, West Virginia, say he was born with a second helping of brains and a gift for playing the mandolin but was cut short on social skills. Though he'd gladly give you the shirt off his back, they were right. Billy longs to use his life as an ode to God, a lyrical, beautiful bluegrass song played with a finely tuned heart. So with spare parts from a lifetime of collecting, he builds a radio station in his own home. People in town laugh. But Billy carries a brutal secret that keeps him from significance and purpose. Things always seem to go wrong for him. However small his life seems, from a different perspective Billy's song reaches far beyond the hills and hollers he calls home. Malachi is an angel sent to observe Billy. Though it is not his dream assignment, Malachi follows the man and begins to see the bigger picture of how each painful step Billy takes is a note added to a beautiful symphony that will forever change the lives of those who hear it.

Billy Allman is the sort of hero we should see more of in novels - plain on the surface, the sort of man many may even find mildly repellent. That is what makes the glimpses into his past and present so powerful. If the author's aim is partly to encourage readers to regard all potential 'Billys' in their lives as people with dignity, noble inner lives and deep wisdom to impart, I think he's succeeded.

One of my favourite characters was Billy's counselor. The man's name was not even mentioned, which is probably appropriate as it enhances one of the main themes, that true heroes who make incredible positive differences in the lives of others are often those behind the scenes who are faithful and effective but unacknowledged by the world at large.

Mr Fabry's writing style often brought tears to my eyes and I found myself wanting to record several wise and beautiful quotes to ponder later. These, in my opinion, are two marks of an excellent novel. Now, the reason why I wouldn't give it five stars is to do with the angelic protection aspect. Although Billy had Malachi faithfully watching over him, poor Callie didn't seem to have a celestial guardian too. She was only protected by Malachi by default, because his own charge, Billy, cared deeply for her. As she was such a sweet and caring person, that did disturb me. I hate to think of people like her being angel-less.

4.5 stars

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