Constance O'Day-Flannery's Heaven on Earth is philosophy disguised as a novel. To meld these two elements successfully is a challenging task, a challenge O'Day-Flannery wasn't able to meet. For a certain, select group of readers - perhaps those looking for a guide to living a richer emotional life - this book may produce an epiphany, but I prefer my lessons better disguised.
Casey O'Reilly is 31, an accountant for a major soap manufacturer, single with no prospects, and an over-powering feeling of, Is that all there is? Right now, Casey is on vacation in New Mexico, on her way to visit her sister in Santa Fe. As she drives through the desert at night, she gets caught in a terrifying electrical storm. Her rental car blows a tire, and Casey is stranded. When she finally sees a pair of headlights in her rear view mirror, she screws up her courage and gets out to flag the driver down. She is immediately struck by lightening and awakes…where?…alone in the middle of a desert windstorm, curled on her side, aching in every muscle.
The man in the car Casey saw approaching is Luke d'Séraphin. When he stops to help Casey and finds one shoe, her wallet and no other signs of life, he knows what has happened and what he has to do. Consequently, minutes after Casey awakes in the desert, there is a second lightening strike and Luke steps out of the glare, kneels in front of her, and wraps his coat around her, sheltering her from the storm and calming her fears.
Luke is a time traveler who goes where he is needed. What is needed this time is for Casey to get her life back on track, and where they have gone is Santa Fe in 1878.
One of the givens of the time travel novel is the time traveler's realization that he or she has done the impossible and must now come to terms with his or her surroundings. Casey's adaptation is different because not only does she have an experienced time traveler to guide her, but Luke is also an empath, so highly skilled that Casey suspects he is reading her mind. Every worry she has, every reaction to her new surroundings, Luke responds to, often before Casey can voice her fears. Gently, he tells her to accept that she has time-traveled and to let her pattern unfold.
For most of Heaven on Earth, the relationship of Casey to the saintly Luke is that of disciple and teacher, with Luke telling her to enjoy the moment and to learn to believe in herself. Does Casey rebel at Luke's constant lecturing? Only a little and only in the beginning. Soon she is hanging on his every word, hardly able to wait until she can get away by herself and assimilate the wisdom of his remarks, a reaction I found more than a little unlikely.
Luke's most complete explication of his philosophy comes when he finds himself alone with Casey at night - not an easy thing for a single woman to arrange in old Santa Fe. For over 15 pages, he explains his philosophy using electricity as a metaphor - electrons, protons, circuit breakers, types of current, rectifiers - all are woven into his discourse. Very like a man, I thought; numerous male relatives have explained electricity to me in tedious detail. I was just as interested in it here as I was when my sons’ mastered electrical theory in high school but Casey seemed to be enthralled.
O'Day-Flannery writes a lovely prose, and her descriptions of the Santa Fe of 1878 are charming. Unfortunately, neither Casey nor Luke ever came to life for me, with little suspense attached to how their romance would turn out. I cannot, therefore, recommend this book to the average reader. Heaven on Earth is a book that I think would only appeal to a reader in search of Words to Live By.
--Nancy J. Silberstein