Woke Up in a Strange Place by Eric Arvin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
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Joe finds himself in a field of barley without his memories. This could only be the Afterlife – but how? Receiving encouragement from a man he knows only as the Stranger, Joe knows the journey he’s about to embark upon will take him back to the Stranger’s arms – but only after he’s revisited all of life’s hardships and made peace in death with those who could never accept him in life. With his trusty guide Baker at his side, Joe journeys through a fantastic, constantly-changing universe and discovers secrets about the people he loved that could never be revealed when they were alive.
I was looking forward to this book a lot, and while it’s definitely a good book with rich world-building, it’s not without its shortcomings. Woke Up In A Strange Place builds a powerful, vivid vision of the Afterlife with excellent language and description of a place that is often random and spontaneous. Joe’s reaction to the things he sees is also wonderful, as he comes to terms with the fact that he gets to see people he thought were lost to him forever.
Joe’s Journey slowly reveals more about his past and who he was in life. We get to see how he copes with coming out, his relationships with various family members, his lovers, his friends, and of course the love of his life that we know lies at journey’s end.
This is definitely a book where the journey should be savored. For a good three-quarters of the book, I really felt that this would be a five-star read, but the end is where this book’s shortcomings show. We spend little time with Joe’s love interest, and the story of how Joe came to be in the Afterlife at all was the one point where I actually felt the book was less-than-believable. Imagine that! I can believe all this author’s strange visions of a world beyond this life, but when it came down to a real-life detail, I was taken out of reality by a situation that seemed to be overly melodramatic and not true-to-life when it didn’t need to be that way at all. The end of the book felt rushed and poorly conceived, as if the author was in a hurry to finish this novel before it slipped away from him.
Still, I can’t deny the pure enjoyment I received from the overall experience. I wouldn’t necessarily define it as a romance, but if you’re curious about what we might experience in the life after this one, if you love journeys and exploration of strange worlds with a gay main character, you’ll probably like this a lot. Arvin definitely holds some views on end-of-life issues and the Afterlife that not everyone will agree with, but nonetheless I think Woke Up In A Strange Place is a unique journey that I feel richer for having experienced.