Adventures in Heaven by Charles Angoff (1945)
I read so you won't have to.
I approached this book with hopeful feelings. The author had a solid reputation, both as a writer and editor. He served as managing editor of American Mercury until that magazine was sold by H. L. Mencken. Angoff then moved to the editorial board of The Nation. Later he became editor of American Spectator before moving full circle back to American Mercury, once again as managing editor. Later on in life he was a distinguished college educator and co-founded the quarterly Literary Review. He edited many books and published dozens of his own work, fiction and non-fiction across a wide spectrum. Three of the stories in Adventures in Heaven were first published in Story, which should have elevated the book in my mind. The book was also mentioned as a fantasy in Donald Tuck's Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy (although Tuck inexplicably misses one story), so when I had a chance to read it I grabbed it.
As I said, I read it so you won't have to.
From the jacket blurb:
"The twenty-two stories that make up this collection are unique in contemporary literature. They are quiet and gentle in mood -- almost otherworldly in manner. In once sense they relate to nothing in the here and now. The reader will not encounter the war in them, or the jitterbug malaise, or the problem of collectivism vs. free enterprise.
"Yet in another and more powerful sense they speak of the most enduring and ever timely problem of all ages and all countries -- of life and the great adventure beyond life, of love, pity, charity, friendship, faith and grace. They accept or project no theological dogma, yet they are deeply religious -- as all things beautiful, from a sunset to the smile of a child, are deeply religious."
Let me pause here for some carping. These stories are not unique. The "war" is a constant topic here. As for theological dogma, the stories are deeply Catholic, if not overtly so. (The author himself was from Russian Jewish stock.) And "jitterbug malaise." Really?
As mentioned in the blurb and on the jacket cover, Adventures in Heaven contains twenty-two stories, although they are more dialogues than stories. (The book's cover reads "Twenty-Two Gentle Fables of the Enduring Adventure Beyond Life.") (And, by the way, "Adventure" is a bit of hyperbole here.) The book runs to a mere 120 pages and can be zipped through in an hour or two -- something that lessened my pain.
The God in Angoff's book often seems to be wishy-washy. He is indecisive and prone to doubt. He often calls on others (Jesus, the saints, Sigmund Freud, Marie Curie, Thomas Hardy, ordinary men and women, and children) to advise Him. Should He eliminate mankind? Should He limit humans to just one sex and, if so, should it be male or female? What can He do to avoid the malaise He is feeling? Of course, this is the author's way of broaching topics for discussion, but it is very off-putting. The answers to these questions and other problems discussed are simplistic.
Off-putting also is the view of women. And of children. And of men. And animals. And. And.
Once a year, either on Christmas or Easter, God allows a select few in Hell to come and stand outside the gates of heaven and to look in. This is supposed to bean example of God's infinite mercy, yet it comes across as petty and cruel.
Angoff's writing is pleasant enough but it is not enough. He is treading on the same territory as Mrs. Oliphant's "A Little Pilgrim in the Seen and the Unseen." He does not exude the vigor of Roark Bradford's Ol' Man Adam an' His Chillun. And he doesn't have the depth and perception of A. J. Langguth's Jesus Christs.
This book may have its admirers somewhere. Sadly, I am not one of them.