Review of Imaginary Book:
“Both Sides Now: An Afterlife Exposé”
What are we to make of this strange yet familiar book? Surely no-one has ever taken so odd a stance; yet even first-time readers feel as if they had heard this story before. Could it be that this satire tells the true nature of Eternity?
But that would be too simple, too “linear” a way of thinking. The author is an ironist; he delights in reducing ideologies to the absurd. The bigger they are, the harder they fall; what bigger pratfall, what wilder reversal, could you imagine than for Heaven and Hell to swap places?
For that is the author’s heretical jest. In this paradoxical morality play, we see the Paradise and the Inferno of medieval Christian theology set into circular motion. Heaven falls, becoming a Hell, and Hell rises, becoming a new Heaven; and by book’s end it is clear that the cycle will repeat forever.
For this is no accident, but inherent in the nature of the situation. The blessed are corrupted by their pride in being blessed; the damned are reformed by their humility in being damned. We see the all-too-familiar class privilege rationalizing power abuse, in parallel with the inspiring sight of suffering souls redeeming each other through mutual aid. No wonder this book’s subtitle is “An Afterlife Exposé”!
Shall we call this book’s author a cynic? An idealist? Both? Neither? Surely the term “realist” doesn’t apply; yet this admittedly fantastic fable has a compelling inner logic. Small details help, such as the slightly orange tint to Heaven’s golden clouds that deepens as the decline from the peak progresses. It was inevitable that St. Francis prefer Hell to Heaven, as would Mark Twain, Gotthold Lessing, and D. T. Suzuki; and just as inevitable that Heaven’s theocratic bureaucracy have personnel such as St. Torquemada and the Archangel Goebbels.
In the book’s first chapter “Summer of our Discontent”, we see Heaven reaching – and passing – its peak, in alternation with Hell bottoming out. In Heaven, the coronation of the Godling is completed; the new deity’s first command is to declare war on Evil. (The clouds turned slightly orange.) Meanwhile in Hell, a temporary cease-fire is declared.
The book’s second chapter is “The Purge”. In Heaven, St. Torquemada and the Archangel Goebbels start expelling suspect blessed; meanwhile in Hell, the cease-fire holds and peace burgeons.
In chapter three, “Zeroth Circle”, falling Heaven and rising Hell meet and pass each other. Separated souls exchange messages; some choose this point to escape the Wheel.
In chapter four, “Fallen Spring”, fallen Heaven turns into veritable Hell, and rising Hell becomes truly Heavenly.
The last chapter, “Looking Up” sees attain – and pass – Heavenly perfection, just as the former Heaven bottoms out.
And that completes the cycle!