Please, not one more day
With no end of schmaltzy Mitch Albom books in sight, the holidays really are purgatory
’Tis the season for football, family and the lazy pieties of feelgoodism. Each year, the holidays become a little less personal, a little less genuinely nice, and a lot more annoying. And each year, droves of increasingly frantic shoppers pretend otherwise, trying to score maximum warm-fuzzies with minimum effort. What might be the last straw is that this tacky seasonal temperament has developed its own one-man literary subgenre, in the person of bestselling author and shameless schmaltz-peddler Mitch Albom. With help from feverishly promotional megalithic bookstore and coffee franchises, Albom has become—well, just the ubiquitous word-slinging hack our hurried, cheaply sentimental holidays deserve.
That’s why his newest book, For One More Day, is everywhere right now. This half-baked tale, which bills itself as a novel but is actually a self-help shortcut for not thinking too much but meaning well, clearly adheres to Albom’s modus operandi. It offers up a banal, tired parable as a heartfelt, insightful message, and pretty much regurgitates the theme from Albom’s 1997 memoir, Tuesdays with Morrie: Cherish the love of your family and friends, work less, recognize that money and fame aren’t everything. In short, don’t be a self-centered jerk.
And it has plenty of one-sentence paragraphs to drive the point home.
Yep, Albom is on to something. Tuesdays with Morrie is quietly affecting, not so much because Albom conveys how the wisdom of his dying teacher, Morrie Schwartz, transformed the author from a wife-neglecting, sports-writing workaholic into a sensitive soul (he never explains what changed in his personal life), but because the old dude says some things that make obvious good sense.
For instance, Morrie says, “Love always wins.” Well sure it does, if you let it. But it’s a hard lesson to remember, apparently, as earlier variations—from the Bible (“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear”) and John Lennon (“Love is the answer and you know that for sure”), among many others—seem to have gone unheeded, at least by Albom. Maybe it would help him to think about what love was fighting with in the first place. Anyway, by the time Albom is done telling the story of Morrie’s final days, only a callous, heartless bastard hasn’t shed a tear over his plight and words.
It should have ended there. But because the sales for Tuesdays with Morrie were astronomical (over 12 million copies sold to date), a follow-up was inevitable. Albom’s 2003 novel, The Five People You Meet in Heaven (which should really be called The Five People Eddie, the Protagonist, Meets in Heaven), has a different but related message: Each of our lives, no matter how small we think they are, mean something bigger than we can imagine. Say, wasn’t Jimmy Stewart in a movie about that, six decades ago, called It’s a Wonderful Life? Hell, wasn’t Ashton Kutcher in a movie about that, two years ago, called The Butterfly Effect?
Eddie is a bitter World War II vet and widower who works at an amusement park and dies saving a little girl from a malfunctioning ride. In the afterlife, five figures from Eddie’s past reveal to this rueful and self-loathing old man what his life’s purpose really was.
But The Five People You Meet in Heaven has sold over 8 million copies since its release; someone’s obviously buying into Albom’s shtick. And so, it continues. For One More Day is the worst of the lot, with a premise that’s the opposite of unique (Stan Lee to Jason Lee in Mallrats: “Brodie, I’d give it all up—all of it—for just one more day with her”) and an execution that’s downright awful.
The protagonist, Charles “Chick” Benetto (or “Charley” to his mother—how many names does the guy need?) is a loathsome, alcoholic prick who spends a great deal of the book suspended between our world and the next after a botched suicide attempt. Chick, or whoever, wanders around with his dead mom, who teaches him (after-) life lessons while he beats himself up for his parents’ divorce, his faded baseball career, his faltering relationship with his ex-wife and daughter, and …
What’s the purpose of this punishment? Do Albom’s common denominator-lowering books, like Peter Frampton, show us the way? Are they our last resort for self-help, for feeling like we’re not alone in this world (or in line at Starbucks)? They shouldn’t be. These days, Albom’s hokey compassion seems less and less reliable because his publicity apparatus seems more and more cynical. Now he’s openly playing on our unfinished grief, capitalizing on that seasonal, commercial rush to remind ourselves that for a few weeks a year, at least, we should try to be decent people. Noted. Now, take the latte; skip the book.