If There Are Any Heavens: A Memoir by Nicholas Montemarano

I wanted to post a quick review of If There Are Any Heavens: A Memoir by Nicholas Montemarano since it was published today.

What can you say about a book like this? The publisher’s description really captures it.

If There Are Any HeavensOn January 6, 2021, at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in America, while the U.S. Capitol is under attack, Nicholas Montemarano drives six hundred miles to see his mother, who is hospitalized with COVID pneumonia and in a critical state. For ten days he lives in a hotel minutes from the hospital, alternating between hope and helplessness. This is the story of those ten days. It is the story of the pandemic told through the intimate prism of one family’s loss.

Written with visceral urgency in the earliest days of grief, If There Are Any Heavens resists categorization: it is a memoir, a poem, a mournful but loving song. Its form asks readers to slow down and breathe between each broken line. At other moments, a chorus of voices—anti-maskers, COVID-deniers, and doctors—causes the reader to become breathless. It is an almost real-time account of the anxiety, uncertainty, and sorrow brought on by this pandemic. It is also, finally, a devastating homage to a family’s love in a time of great loss.

I grabbed my review copy and started reading it at the end of April and read it straight through. It is spare and yet emotional, immediate and yet ethereal, mundane and yet profound. Its power comes from capturing the powerful emotions and yet surrealism of the pandemic, the question “Is this really happening?” echoes throughout. It contrasts the helpless feeling of losing a loved one with the anger and denial of others but not in a heavy handed way.

This is an important work for those who did not lose a loved one or experience that aspect of the pandemic to read, to get a glimpse into that world and hopefully gain understanding and empathy.

Truly a literary wrestling with historic and yet deeply personal events.

Kirkus: “A poignant elegy for a beloved mother.”

Library Journal: “Montemarano’s unique literary memoir offers an absorbing, visceral experience of the pandemic and should easily find a dedicated audience.”

Shelf Awareness: “Though his story is specific–a description of only one death among more than a million–his eloquence transports it to the realm of the universal.”

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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