A businessman, a personal shopper, a grandmother, a gay interior designer and a widowed candy store owner meet in purgatory ...
Sounds like the start of a joke, doesn't it?
It's actually the start of an intriguing little novel, I Never Saw Paris (Carroll & Graf, 196 pages, $23) by Harry I. Freund...
These five characters are killed at the start of the book and meet an angel named Malakh, who has been appointed to transition them into the afterlife.
"Please do not be overly anxious," Malakh tells them. "This process is a gentle and illuminating one and the very fact that I have been assigned to you should be reassuring, as I am specifically trained to deal only with normal souls. Those who are at the extreme ends of the moral spectrum are processed by specialized angels, also the souls that are insane, the unhinged ones, the nuts."
The title refers to the story of Irving Caldman, the 64-year-old businessman, who was waiting for the light to change at 57th and Park Avenue in Manhattan after buying shirts for the long-awaited trip to Paris he promised his wife Jane. Then a car swerved into the sidewalk.
Irving and the other four souls — Clarissa Bowen, the fiftysomething personal shopper, Brett Taylor, the young, gay, interior decorator, Essie Mae Rowder, a widowed domestic and grandmother, and Mendel Perlow, the 70-ish candy store owner who was driving the car that killed them all — must spill their secrets to Malakh in order to move on to final judgment.
If it sounds too much like a sweet, sappy Mitch Albom-type story, fear not. The writing is sharper and, frankly, more interesting.