The Rooms of Heaven: A Story of Love, Death, Grief, and the Afterlife


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A memoir that is intimate and gripping, literary and suspenseful, The Rooms of Heaven is a love story, an anatomy of a suicide, an account of grief and healing, and a wholly original exploration of life after death.

At its center is Mary Allen, seeking a new beginning in Iowa City. There she meets Jim Beaman--smart, handsome, charming--a workingman who defies the stereotypes: he has a lightning wit, he draws and sculpts, he makes chess sets out of clay.

It's hard to explain, Allen writes, what it's like when you're attracted to someone as suddenly and fiercely as I was to Beaman, what it is about him that makes you fall in love with him. But she does explain, and we see the beginnings of an intense love affair: We talked about everything and nothing, his childhood and my childhood, people we'd slept with and people we hated, death and college and dreams.

There's more to this relationship, however, than a simple love story. Jim Beaman, it turns out, has a drug problem, and Allen gets drawn into the world of addiction, with its promises and denials, good intentions and inevitable disappointments. Then Jim kills himself.

Stories about somebody dying usually end with the death, notes Allen, but this time death is not the end of the story. Convinced that Jim must be somewhere, that a person, that Jim Beaman, was more than a complex piece of machinery, reduced now to a pile of ashes in a cardboard box, she embarks on a riveting, sometimes funny, often terrifying investigation of the landscape of the afterlife--a journey that leads her to (perhaps) contact with Jim, to the brink of madness, and, ultimately, back to herself.

In prose of astonishing originality, The Rooms of Heaven captures the beauty of the American heartland, the transformative power of love, and the terrible magic of death.

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