This is Heaven is a sequel to Green Eyes by Michael Ampersant. I have neither read nor reviewed the first book, so the characters, the plot, and the setting were all brand new to me when I began this story. Having read this one, if you are interested in reading it too, I highly suggest finding yourself a copy of book one.
John Lee, son of John Lee, grandson (most likely) of John Lee, teaches French at Southern Georgia College. He also happens to be in the middle of the most confusing time of his life. The man he’s in love with, Alex, recently tried to kill himself. Fortunately for John, he failed. Now, though, Alex thinks he’s in heaven and John is the angel he’s meant to love.
Alex also thinks he has no soul and fancies himself to be quite clever. Adding a cherry to the sundae of John’s life, Alex also has amnesia and can’t remember anything that happened before his suicide attempt. John isn’t terribly interested in Alex’s past, anyway. What he’s interested in is Alex’s body and his heart. He wants Alex for his own and when Alex — in his drifting, smiling, unconcerned way — finds himself in bed with another one of John’s friends, John realizes he wants Alex all to himself.
Because Alex slept with someone else, John finds someone else. A young man only recently turned 18 — fortunately the age of consent in Georgia happens to be 16 — which doesn’t bother Alex much at all. A fact John resents as he is bothered, completely, when Alex finds company with others and shows no sign of coming back to John.
Then there are the side plots. Juliette, a young woman they meet at the beach, falls in love with a young man calling himself Romeo. A police inspector investigating a murder has fixated on John as the solution to all his crimes. John is a pimp, renting out his friend Ben who is sleeping with Alex. Maurice, a visiting friend who was assaulted in book one and has been staying in John’s house, is upset that John doesn’t share his romantic feelings. Godehart Wagner, a “character” of John’s acquaintance, has been conned into signing away his money and it’s up to John and Alex — and everyone else plus a dozen more people — to help him win it back by taking over the festival.
And it goes on and on and on and on. No one plot has the spotlight, no one story is being told. It’s a muddled, mad mess of a book. Taking this book on its own, without relying on the previous book at all, all I can say is that this book tries too hard to make no sense.
But first, let’s take a look at John. John is passive. John begins the book the same as he ends it: flat, uninteresting, and having grown not at all. There is no character development, no change at all. He tells us how much he loves Alex, but other than being jealous of Alex’s attention, I don’t see any actual emotion. When he’s seducing Taylor or Maurice, there’s the same apathy and joylessness as in the scenes where he’s arrested or driving a car.
Alex is just as frustrating. From the reveal at the end, Alex fancies himself to be very clever for figuring everything out. But… everything he’s figured out, everything he shares with the reader, are things that happened off screen. He talks about scenes and conversations the reader had no part in, leaving me to feel like he was just there to add to the word count or to fool me into thinking there’d been more of a plot than there was. True, John was very clearly an unreliable narrator, but as he didn’t see any of these events unfolding, neither does the reader. It’s like watching a show on television only to have a character tell us in the last five minutes about all the wonderful things that we didn’t get to see, and aren’t they clever and witty?
Taylor and Maurice, and even Ben, had a lack of character depth, but as they were all side characters it wasn’t as obvious. There were enough hints of Taylor and Ben to give me some idea of who they may have been — had I ever been introduced to them — but Maurice was nothing in this book. Perhaps there was more of him in book one, but reading just book two he felt unnecessary. There was no sense that there was any closure in the scenes between he and John. They just happened and that was that.
The author has an… interesting writing style, and one I don’t care for in the least. Ampersant was born in Germany and lived in the Netherlands so much of the style may be cultural, but whatever the case it just didn’t work for me. For example:
The patio door is flung open and there comes a woman, the hair flame red, the curls wind-tossed, the striding apparition of a true equestrian gliding on eloquent thighs through the late-night crowd.
This is a line spoken by a character, Gretta, as she’s telling a story to John and Alex. It feels unnatural, even for a woman trying to impress other people. John follows this with his own oddness:
‘Amaretto,’ I reply instinctively, feeling a sudden craving for the sweet-night liqueur of carnal reputation.
The purple prose shows up only occasionally, showing up in random spurts. The whole book isn’t written like this, just certain passages. There are also some passages of racial insensitivity that made me wince. Again, coming from Germany and the Netherlands, the author doesn’t have the same exposure an American might to describing a black man as: “His jungle-cat body, his skin black as sin…” and “…the ebony race?’” Or to a man of asian features as having an “oriental placidness.” Again, the author is not an American, but he is writing about Americans living in Georgia. It comes across as insensitive and slightly racist. Much of the difficult descriptions of the black character come from Gretta as she’s expounding on how amazing Ben was on the night she paid for him, but it’s still problematic.
Add to that the shifting of tense, the shifting of perspective, the use of parenthesis for the first third of the book:
(There is a silence.)
“Did we talk now?” I ask.
… but only for the first third of so, and it makes for difficult reading. While some of this can be seen as style choices by the author, the inconsistancies and kitchen-sink approach (throw everything at them to see what works and ignore what doesn’t) make it seem less deliberate and more accidental. I think this book could use another run-through by an editor to make it more readable.
And for all, that vampires are mentioned — and several characters are hinted to be undead — they are so ignsignificant to the story as to be not be worth talking about. It feels like the author meant to do something with them and forgot, much as the plot and half the story lines were forgotten.