Albom compresses another big issue in 'Day'


Published: Sunday, October 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, October 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
Mitch Albom's new novel, "For One More Day," measures 5 inches by 7 inches and is about half an inch thick. So it's not as big as a regular novel but is thicker, at least, than a greeting card. That feels about right.
Albom is the Tennyson of tear-jerking, the Chekhov of choking up. His first book, 1997's "Tuesdays With Morrie," was a fine nonfiction account of his bedside sojourn with an ex-professor dying of Lou Gehrig's disease who passed on a joyous collection of life lessons. His second book, "The Five People You Meet in Heaven," was a novel about a dead man reviewing his life (and learning lessons) and felt much more strained than "Morrie."
The reading public (many critics aside) adores Albom like he's going door to door giving back rubs. "Morrie" sold 11 million copies, "Heaven" 8 million. "For One More Day" has a first printing of 2.2 million, making it, by that measure, the biggest novel of the fall.
And that's just to get the presses primed. It arrived in bookstores Tuesday, will land at every Starbucks counter in America next week, and then conquer the best-seller list.
Resistance is futile - Mitch Albom's implacable juggernaut of life lessons will not be denied.
"For One More Day" is yet another looking-back-on-life book, another novel, but emotionally thinner than his first two. Where "Morrie" and "Heaven" both at least had some range of feelings and experience packed in with the schmaltz, "Day" boils down to one simple sentiment: You should be nicer to your mother.
Briefly (and boy, is this book brief), Charley "Chick" Benetto wishes he had been nicer to his mother. He spends his whole life trying to please the distant father who'd walked out on the family and ignoring his mother's many sacrifices. Chick ends up making a hash of his sad life: alcoholic, marginally employed, divorced, estranged from his grown daughter. He tries to kill himself, fails, and when he wakes up, there's Mom, looking none the worse for wear, even though she's been dead for several years.
Albom alternates between the present (Chick and Mom, together again for just one day, working to assuage Chick's guilt) and the past, the rather mundane, predictable '50s home that Chick grew up in (fish sticks, homemade Halloween costumes, stifling societal expectations). And even though Albom can be cliched as a writer, he does pull off a very cool twist on the last page; he's not the Wordsworth of the waterworks for nothing.
The lament of wishing one could have one more day with a lost loved one is both universal and, for some people, nearly overwhelming; Albom may be unashamedly corny, but he likes the big issues. Still, even though there's a big issue at play here, "Day" feels thematically smushed when compared with "Morrie" and "Heaven."
Albom's three books show a trend of diminishing returns, but we'll always have Morrie Schwartz. Here's what he had to say, back in the '90s, apropos of Chick: "I don't allow myself any more self-pity than that. A little each morning, a few tears, and that's all."

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