I’m so excited to be writing reviews for Joyfully Jay. The thing that I love about this job the most is that it gives me the opportunity to share my favorite books and hopefully convince a few people to buy them and read them. Today, that book is Woke Up in a Strange Place by Eric Arvin. In general, I read as a means of escape. I want a book that is entertaining, well-written, well-paced, with characters that I love. This book has all of those things, but it also appeals to the side of me that is the pretentious literature teacher. It is beautifully written, with descriptive imagery that transports you through the fantastical world that Arvin has created. And if it’s death-defying romance doesn’t make you a bit emotional, perhaps you’re dead.
Before I give you a brief summary, we must discuss the cover. I know we’ve kind of been overtaken by the e-reader world and, believe me, I get it. I’m a Kindle gal. But if there’s one book you should own in physical form, it’s this one. The cover art was created by Paul Richmond, and it’s about the prettiest book I’ve ever seen. And I can honestly say that the story is as good as that bum on the front cover. A bargain at any price.
The story is difficult to explain, but I’ll attempt a synopsis. Joe wakes up one day in a field, naked, with no idea of how he got there and without any previous memories from his life before. With his companion, Baker, he sets out on a journey led by a compelling desire to meet up with the Stranger, a man he does not remember, but feels drawn to nonetheless. Along the way, he finds out where he is, his memories slowly return to him, and the purpose of his journey becomes clear.
It is this “penetrating restlesness” to meet up with the Stranger that guides Joe forward, into a world without boundaries, the product of dreams and desires, hope and love, and, sometimes, devastating guilt and unhappiness. One thing that Arvin excels at is his ability to create a sense of place so precise, so descriptive, that the reader is surrounded by a full sensory experience. He creates sounds, smells, and sights so vivid, it feels as if you are making the journey along with Joe. Whether it be the “somber, lilting, plaintive chords” of music, the putrid stench of a “revolting yellowish mist,” or a tree so massive “even the aureate grass around it seemed to recline in awe at the sheer height,” the descriptive, lyrical language is the star of this novel.
As a spiritual person, I believe that there is a life after death, and I have a distinct idea of what this life will look like. While this world that Arvin creates is not heaven, but another form of being, an Eternal Second, it is intensely beautiful, and left me hoping this is exactly the reward we will receive after a life well-lived. As Baker states, in this world “you don’t need to do anything ‘cept learn.” You’re free to create a world that is everything you’ve dreamed, everything you’ve ever wanted, and live in everlasting bliss with all the people you have ever loved drawn to you by the connections that you made. For some, this means a wonderland of happy, dancing woodland creatures and to others it’s a giant frat house designed for never-ending sexual encounters without worldly restriction. For others, those who are unable to find the absolution for tragic mistakes and are still riddled with overwhelming guilt, their world becomes one of never-ending despair, replacing the standard definition of hell that Joe had grown up believing. It upends the concept of heaven and hell, but creates a new definition that is not ruled by a judgmental God or a set of rules established by organized religion, but instead on the spiritual growth of trusting in an “otherness” and being open to new ideas.
Above all, this novel is a love story. It is the story of desperately searching for the one that will make you complete, and then doing everything that you can to hold onto that love forever. It is about finding the kind of love that makes their happiness the meaning of your existence, no matter the cost. And it is about having the courage to love against all odds, achieving a sense of freedom you will otherwise not know.
I highly recommend this book. It is not an easy read, but it’s worth the effort. It is beautiful in every sense of the word, and it will leave you feeling empowered and hopeful and inspired. It will make you think about your life and what awaits you upon death. It will not be the material things that we spend our lives working to attain, but our love and memories and deepest, happy desires. Eric Arvin has created a world in which we can interpret and define our own lives, and I look forward to what he creates for us in the future.