Book Review: An Unassigned Life by Susan Wells Bennett
I always enjoy books that make me think. Susan Wells Bennett’s An Unassigned Life gave me rather quite a lot to think about. In all of the years that I learned about religion, I don’t think that I ever stopped to consider that ‘purgatory’– that intermediate destination for those whose lives did not qualify them either for heaven or hell– might actually be this very world we occupy here and now.
An Unassigned Life is a comedy. Which opens with a suicide. Tim Chase lands on his garage floor and looks up at his body hanging by a noose from a rafter and thinks WTF? He stands up and continues to stare at his dead body. And is very startled when an angel named Ezer taps him on the shoulder, and says “Pardon me, Mr. Chase.” Ezer gives Tim his very own El Pad– an intuitive eReader-ish version of The Book Of El, the heavenly publication issued to Unassigned Souls to help them understand and adjust to their status.
Those who have read others of Mrs. Bennett’s novels will not be surprised at the believable and oh so human characters whom Tim interacts with as a ghost who continues to inhabit the home he died in. Even as a copier salesman and his wife buy the house and move in. I realized while reading this volume that Bennett reminds me a great deal of classic Heinlein, books like The Cat Who Walked Through Walls. The pacing is exquisite and the reader is just totally drawn into an improbable yet utterly credible story. I particularly enjoyed the way Arlo and Easter, a couple of tattoo artists who had secondary roles throughout The Brass Monkey Novels, appeared again in this volume, again as supporting rather than starring players. It reminded me a great deal of how Larry McMurtry’s characters were never pinned down to a single volume. (Patsy Carpenter was a supporting character in Aurora Greenway’s story in Terms Of Endearment and The Evening Star, while Aurora was only an off-screen character briefly referred to in Moving On, which was mostly Patsy’s story.)
It is no accident that I have just compared Mrs. Bennett with two prolific authors whose works have stood the test of time and come to be regarded as great American literature. It is not even an accident that these writers were most noted for their science fiction and western genre novels respectively. While Bennett’s novels always seem to stay within the bounds of books that a library would classify simply as Fiction (rather than a genre like Mystery, Science Fiction or Westerns) both Unassigned Life and Just One Note have an unmistakably science fiction aura about them, and Bennett’s characters very specifically live in Pheonix, Arizona. While Tim Chase and all of his cohorts are a far cry from dime store cowboys, these characters are an extraordinary portrayal of the people who actually live in the western United States today.
An Unassigned Life— Very Highly Recommended