cover image The Indifference of Heaven

The Indifference of Heaven

Gary A. Braunbeck. Obsidian Books, Etc, $29 (350pp) ISBN 978-1-891480-05-8

Braunbeck's debut as a dark fantasy novelist shows the same passion and originality as his short fiction collection, Things Left Behind (1997)--and the same fearless sidesteps into obscurity. The grim realism of the first chapter belies the unpredictability of what follows: Ohio television news anchor Robert Londregan watches helplessly as his wife, Denise, stricken with catastrophic mysterious symptoms, and their unborn child die in a hospital emergency room. Then things get very weird. Robert is assaulted in the morgue by a man with a hideously deformed face, the fetal corpse disappears and the deformed assailant, who calls himself Rael, informs Robert that Denise, like Rael himself, is one of the Hallover, the guardian angel offspring of humans and repentant fallen angels who are ""able to move freely between the Earth of men and the Kingdom of God."" The fate of Rael and his kind depend on Denise's return, and Robert is charged with retrieving her in one of the many incarnations she has assumed. Much of this strange mythology is related in preachy parables, since there is no way Robert (or the reader) could possibly parse it from the chaotically orchestrated events. But though Braunbeck puzzles with his plotting, he has a knack for summing up in concise images the abstruse concepts he kicks around--for example, the recurring symbol of Denise's matryoshka, or nesting dolls, which eloquently expresses how a part of her invests every person whom Robert has ever loved. The novel bursts with moving insights about grief turning one's world upside down and about the restorative power of love, and Braunbeck can't be taken to task too severely for expressing them with more feeling than sense. (May)