For One More Day by Mitch Albom is a so-called ‘philosophical’ novel about the relationship that Charles ‘Chick’ Benetto has with his family and the world around him. The novel centres around the journey and musings of Chick as he recalls significant memories from his life, tries to commit suicide, and finds himself with the opportunity for ‘one more day’ with his long-dead mother.
Despite the rarity of the events in the book (I’m not sure how often any one of us can say that we have been visited by a dead relative), the plot is surprisingly relatable. There are several uncanny moments within the text which I, and probably many other readers, have experienced in alarmingly like manner. Early on, Chick describes how ‘there were times I wished she [his mother] would leave me alone’, and the guilt he subsequently felt after her death. I know I certainly look back on certain situations and conversations with regret, and I doubt I am alone. The frankness that Albom constructs for Chick is the perfect vehicle that allows for the reader to understand and sympathise with Chick’s position, if not with his character.
In spite of the first person narrative, I did not find myself relating to Chick at all, or any of the other characters in fact. The situations presented evoke an emotional response but the characters themselves come across as a little flat. At times, the first person narration also seems slightly inappropriate and ineffective, such as the section whereby Chick relates the details of a horrific car crash whilst he is currently experiencing it. Perhaps it is just my being too much of a realist, but I doubt that somebody who is highly intoxicated and trapped in a car hurtling through the air is going to be able to give you as clear an account of events as Chick manages to do here.
Whilst I did not always necessarily receive the full impact of the emotion that Albom was trying to illicit, numerous moments really captured a rawness that is difficult to define. In one instance, Chick’s mother stands up for him at the library after the librarian has refused him a book because it would be ‘too hard’ for him. As an avid reader from a young age, I do not know if I can imagine something more crushing than being told that I was not clever enough to read what I wanted. Albom represents motherly love and pride in several forms throughout his novel, but this is by far one of his best and most human.
The novel is well structured overall, with several different elements coming together to give a holistic picture of Chick and his family situation. However, I feel that the insertions lack meaning, taking the reader out of the narrative space, rather than adding to it. The plot and narrative structure also begin to lose focus as the novel progresses. The ‘Times I Did Not Stand Up for My Mother’ sections start out as snappy little anecdotes, to respond to and counteract the ‘Times My Mother Stood Up for Me’ sections. However, by the end, the former have turned into one long tale which spans several separate sections, only to then move into the main body of the story as some sort of parallel narrative. The past and present seem to blur uncomfortably in a way that they did not at the start of the novel.
Above all, the one thing that really sets Albom’s novel apart is his ability to portray heart-warming moments in such an exquisite and sincere manner. Albom’s assertion that ‘the dead sit at our tables long after they have gone’ is both poignant, and hauntingly accurate. The only disappointment is the one instance in which Albom’s subtlety and soul-shatteringly beautiful sentiment is ruined slightly, when Chick’s mother goes on to explain the situation to Chick on the next page, thereby reducing all of its euphemistic delicacy into a set of crude declaratives.
To compare this novel to one of Albom’s other notable works, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, some common themes appear: a preoccupation with the dead and death, a troubled, miserable protagonist, and an aim towards redemption. Albom is an incredibly skilled and compelling writer, and he brings a sense of realism to his work that is refreshing to read.
In summary, For One More Day is perhaps a bit over-sentimental, but it is an enjoyable and worthwhile read, particularly for anybody who has known what it is to grieve.