cover image Stella in Heaven: Almost a Novel

Stella in Heaven: Almost a Novel

Art Buchwald. Putnam Publishing Group, $23.95 (182pp) ISBN 978-0-399-14642-8

Columnist Buchwald's slim, ever-so-slight comedic tale of widowers and remarriage is more than aptly described by its wry subtitle. Its main story line is evenly divided between the seriocomic spiels of Roger Folger, a 61-year-old research scientist who's recently lost his wife, and Stella, his deceased spouse, who narrates from her new home in Heaven. Ever since Stella passed on to a better world, Roger hasn't known what to do with himself. He slowly comes to realize that he's relied upon Stella to make all of the most important decisions of his married life: without her, he's clueless, hapless and easily hoodwinked by his less-than-scrupulous housing contractor buddy, Twoey McGowan. Stella is similarly troubled, up in Heaven; she wants Roger to remarry and find happiness again, but she isn't sure how to go about orchestrating this. Fortunately, the celestial ""management"" has allowed her to keep a direct spiritual phone line to Roger, and the two talk endlessly, trying to figure out how to get Roger back into the marriage market. The heaven that Stella inhabits is an improbably cutesy, saccharine-dripped fantasy land, where Mary Magdalene is always on hand to dispense pithy advice, and Moses mixes drinks over by the pool. The novel itself emerges as little more than an excuse for frequent jokes on every subject from familial dysfunction to political activism to Jewish mothers. This is fine when the jokes are good, which they occasionally are. Unfortunately, the narrative largely lacks Buchwald's trademark comic edge, relying instead on clunkers like, ""you are not permitted to tip here at all, which is how you know this is truly Heaven."" It's hard to dislike a book so studiously inoffensive; on the other hand, there's little here to truly delight in. (Sept.)