Back in June of 2013, I read Eric Arvin’s Woke Up in a Strange Place. This wasn’t the first of Eric’s books I ever read, but I can say without a doubt that it was the most impactful of all of them. The timing of this book in my life became muddled over the years because, in a period from March of 2012 to September of 2013, I lost my sister to cancer, and both of my parents to the various complications that come along with old age. I was sure I’d read the book after my dad’s passing, but that wasn’t the case at all—I read it after I’d already lost my sister and mom, but three months before my dad was lost to the ravages of dementia. Why I associate the reading of the book with my dad’s death is most likely because I had the privilege of crying about it in front of Eric at GRL in Atlanta that year, just a few short weeks after losing the man who, through a feat of genetics, gave me his smile. I’m sure I probably traumatized Eric, but outwardly, he was nothing less than kind and gracious.
There really is no comfort in letting go of someone we love. Oh, we can play at being brave and say it’s for the best. And, logically, we know that to see an end to the struggle that life becomes as a body winds down, is a twisted knife to the heart sort of blessing. But the heart and soul and the vastness of love have little to do with logic. And platitudes are typically all we have left at our disposal, besides our memories, to help us go on afterwards. But then, there’s Woke Up in a Strange Place, Eric Arvin’s vision of Life After Life—the greatest and strangest adventure of them all. It’s a story about Heaven, or, rather, the Heaven of our own making. As I look at my original review of the book, knowing that this dear and brilliant man is on the precipice of his own awakening to a new journey, it makes the book and its message all the more powerful.
My heartfelt gratitude goes out to Eric for sharing his imagining of what lies beyond. It gave me comfort in a dark time, and I hope with all my heart that it’s more prophesy than prose. If it is, Eric is in for the most amazing adventure of life ever after.
All my love to Eric and the entire Arvin family.
Imagine, if you will, standing upon the banks of a lazy river, its surface a cool and contemplative deception that masks the roiling current tumbling below. You wade into its deceptive stillness, unaware of, and unprepared for, what lies beneath—an unknown variable that, in its depth and power, sweeps you off your feet and carries you to the beyond, made puppet to its every whim, helpless to do anything more than succumb to it as you’re left to the mercy of its will.
This is exactly what reading Eric Arvin’s Woke Up In a Strange Place was like for me, drifting along on a river of words that flowed at once serenely then became turbulent in their emotional depths. The author sat down in front of a computer one day and began to tell a story, opening a floodgate of imagery so museful and inspired that it lures you in, in all its subtle tranquility, and then draws you under, setting you adrift on an unexpected journey that transports the reader to a place far, far from where we began, a place that is other, a place that exists just beyond the veil of “I am”, in the place we may know as “I was”.
Imagine, if you will, that we are little more than souls inhabiting a temporary shelter, traveling on an endless journey that loops in a continuum of beginnings, the sort of beginnings that lead us down a path once traveled then forgotten, which then must be re-traveled then remembered before we can begin again. This journey will take you through a Neverland of wondrous and impossible possibilities, an Elysian Field where each station of the course is laid out in a carefully constructed relief map of the unexpected, where those who are expecting the unexpected watch and wait in remembrance of us.
Joe has set out upon this journey through his own Avalon, chasing his life in death through snippets of memory until the moment he will reach the thing closest to a heaven only he can claim as his own. Only, Heaven is closed for business—or, is it?—in this through-the-looking-glass adventure, in this searching of souls where a man discovers that the pride in all his battles in life have built the strength that leads him to a love of lifetimes.
Over land and water and through the skies, Joe encounters places of grief and regret, of seduction and salvation, of mystery and revelation, places of grace and of love, and faith and forgiveness. It is the place called the Eternal Second, the place where mythology meets the poetic, and where Joe will search for The Stranger he knows so well but can’t yet remember, not until he relives time and time and time again. Woke Up In a Strange Place is a story of death and rebirth, of destiny and second chances, like an ambling journey through a long and winding poem written in perfect symmetry and rhythm, a visual journey sketched on the mind’s eye of halcyon days and a tempest of moments that have served to build a man from beginning to end to beginning again.
I love this book, love it with everything there is to love about storytelling and wordsmithing and imagination and speculation about what lies beyond for us all. It is personal, but not only to the author. It is personal to each and every one of us who is willing to read and examine our beliefs of what happens once we shuffle off this mortal coil, but it is not a story of what happens after we die.
This is a story of what happens after we’ve lived.
Woke Up in a Strange Place is subliminal and it is sublime, and if you haven’t read it yet, I can’t recommend highly enough that you do. And soon.