Title: As Bright As Heaven
Author: Susan Meissner
Publisher: Berkley (February 6, 2018)
Genre: General Fiction (Adult), Historical Fiction
Trigger Warnings: Discussion of Death
I bought As Bright as Heaven as a part of my January Book of the Month club box. Thank you to Book of the Month for providing us the option to purchase an early release copy of As Bright As Heaven. All opinions are my own.
A historical fiction novel surrounding the Great War and the Spanish Flu, As Bright as Heaven, is told in the perspective of a mother and her three daughters – Paulina, Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa Bright. Thomas Bright, the patriarch of the Bright Family, has recently been offered a position at his uncle’s funeral home. Haunted by the loss of their baby boy, Henry, Paulina views living in the funeral home as a means to gain closure. The family packs up their bags to head to the big city of Philadelphia for a better life. The girls all have various opinions regarding the move; but, in a little less than a year, they have adapted to their new life. That is until the war worsens and the Spanish Flu epidemic sweeps through the United States. Death tolls have been raising and it is not safe to be outside without a mask. Their funeral parlor can no longer fit any more bodies and caskets are being made as fast as they can. However, in all the destruction, they are granted speck of hope through the presences of an orphaned baby boy.
As much as I try not to admit it, historical fiction is my guilty pleasure. As someone who is not fond of reading non-fiction, historical fiction allows me the opportunity to examine events of the past with new eyes. Why I appreciated As Bright as Heaven was because Meissner gave us a glimpse at one of the forgot epidemics of 20th century America, the Spanish flu. Often overlooked because of World War I, the Spanish flu (the first pandemic of the H1N1 virus) killed over 12,000 Philadelphians alone. Worldwide, the Spanish flu affected 500 million civilians and resulted in 3-5% of the world population in 1918 as casualties. To have Meissner write about the Spanish flu in the perspective of a family living in a funeral home was a treat. How can you run from a virus whose victims are being stored in your house?
I adored Meissner’s characters Paulina, Evelyn, and Maggie. Three women who held themselves in strong roles. Both Paulina and Maggie never backed-down from what they wanted and Evelyn pursued being a doctor in 1920s, which was nearly unheard of. It made me smile also that Thomas, the husband/father, supported his girls with their decisions even if he was not fond of them – a modern man. I do wish I felt a stronger connection to the youngest daughter, Willa. I did enjoy how Meissner continually had seven-year-old Willa, in part one, call the “embalming room” the “Elm Bonning Room”; and, in part two, her act of teenage defiance added comedic relief to the plot and was enjoyable to read. However, I do not believe she carried enough importance to the plot to have her own perspective be told as much as it was.
Overall, I gave As Bright as Heaven4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads. Although, As Bright as Heaven is marketed as Adult fiction; this novel would be appropriate for strong readers 13 and up. I wish I could tell you more; however, Meissner included as many twists and turns as a psychological thriller and I do not want to give anything else away. You will just have to wait until February 6th to purchase the book and see for yourself.
I wanted to say, “It’s the strangest thing. I’m not afraid of Death anymore. I know I should be. But ever since Henry died, Death is not the phantom that it used to be. It is more like a quiet friend. I thought coming to Uncle Fred’s funeral home would change all that, and Death would get back to being what it was before. But we’ve been there all these months and nothing is different. If anything, Death is more my friend than ever.” I wanted to ask her what is wrong with me, and I wanted her to say, “Nothing. Nothing is wrong with you, Polly. Your child died and your mother’s heart is healing the best way it can. The heart always does what it needs to do. Don’t you fret, now. Everything will be all right in time.”
But we never had that conversation.
–As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner