‘In this place, each person feels the dignified solitude of one engaged in a lost cause.’ So says Cecelia, a troubled young musician, in John Brandon’s third novel, A Million Heavens. She’s imagining a friend’s afterlife, but she might as well be describing the fractured, frustrating and sometimes ecstatic world around her.
A Million Heavens follows a number of loosely connected people in a dying New Mexico town. Soren, a young boy who mysteriously falls into a coma after playing a piece of music, unites most of them. One central character is Soren’s nameless father; two others, Cecelia and Dannie, hold vigils outside the clinic where Soren is treated. Their stories correlate with others – a wolf traversing the town, a dead musician writing songs – that are less realistic in tone.
While Brandon’s previous novel, Citrus County, employed realism to home in on several lives in conflict, he uses a grand, metaphysical layer of storytelling to takes on bigger themes here: the legacy of grief, economic anxiety and parenthood.