Proof of Heaven: A Novel

Release Date: 
November 1, 2011
William Morrow
Reviewed by: 

“Grief never ceases to transform.”

Mary Curran Hackett has drafted a stirring and remarkable, life-affirming debut novel. This is the story of a very sick and courageous five-year-old boy. Colm suffers from a rare disease that will kill him within two years. He knows this and wants simply to see the father he’s never known before he departs this earth.

Colm’s mother, Cathleen, is an intensely religious Irish-American Catholic woman who will do anything to extend her son’s life, although she knows that “if her son were a dog, they would have put him out of his misery already.” This includes taking him on a pilgrimage to the Abbey of San Damiano in Italy in the hope that Colm will be cured by a miracle.

“Colm was one of a kind.”

Colm’s disease is idiopathic, meaning that its origins and treatments are unknown to the medical world. Colm suffers strokes that put him into a condition of appearing to be dead before he returns to consciousness. The boy believes that he has literally died on at least one or two occasions, and comes to accept that there’s nothing waiting for him after his death.

Colm (pronounced “calm”) is quite reminiscent of the character Tim Farnsworth in the novel The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris. Farnsworth comes to give up hoping that the world of medicine will save him, and he remains—despite having a wife and family—ultimately alone in his struggle against a unique, crippling disease. Colm also thinks of himself as being alone, despite the smothering efforts of Cathleen to protect him, until a potential savior—a physician—arrives on the scene.

Dr. Gaspar Basu is a man who lost a son at an early age in India, and comes to love Colm as a type of replacement for his late son Dhruv. Dr. Gaspar also comes to fall in love with Cathleen. And so he installs a pacemaker in Colm’s chest in hopes of preventing further near-death experiences for Colm and agrees to accompany Colm and Cathleen on their journey to Italy. Dr. Basu will also join with Colm’s uncle in supporting Colm’s effort to find his father who was last known to live as a musician in Los Angeles.

“. . . by Colm’s seventh birthday he hadn’t had any other near-death experiences after leaving Italy. To Cathleen it was a sign that God was answering some of her prayers. Colm may not have been physically healed, but at least he hadn’t died again. Perhaps the worst was behind him. Perhaps the miracle took. . . .”

The other details of the story should be left to the reader to discover. Kudos to Hackett for presenting a real world, gritty yet soaring tale in which humans must make personal choices between hope and hopelessness (in a spiritual sense). And rest assured that once you’ve finished reading Proof of Heaven you may well look at life and its inevitable conclusion in a new way.

“He had loved her. She had loved him.”

“It was enough.”