Billy Coffey’s There Will Be Stars is a book that comes at you like one of those 1500-piece jigsaw puzzles that, piece by added-piece, finally start to make a little sense to you. But unlike those puzzles where you snap the last piece in and everything is perfect, I still found myself pondering There Will Be Stars several days after I turned its last page. As I think about the book, little hints and clues that got by me the first time around surface from my subconscious, and my appreciation for the novel grows.
Here’s something to think about. What if you die, only to arrive in a slightly skewed version of the world you just left behind? More importantly, what if it is impossible to figure out if you’ve gone to heaven or to hell?
Bobby Barnes is perhaps the most notorious drunk in Mattingly, Virginia. If anyone there deserves to go to hell upon his demise, it’s probably Bobby. He’s a two-case-a-day beer drinker whose driving is a menace to everyone in the area, the kind of guy that the local sheriff expects to be scraping off the highway any day now. Bobby, though, is not really a bad guy, he’s simply someone who uses alcohol to make him forget the things he blames himself for. But when the inevitable crash finally happens, Bobby wakes up on the morning of the day that he died – and learns that he must relive that day over and over again. The good news is that the same 24 ice-cold beers he drank the day before are waiting for him in the shop refrigerator. The bad news is that if there were a day Bobby could choose to live all over again, this most certainly would not be the one he would pick.
As Bobby will learn, though, he’s not the only one trapped this way. There are several others, in fact, and they have formed a little family of their own at the home of a woman they now think of as “Mama.” Among them, are an old schoolteacher of Bobby’s, a little boy, a housewife, a town preacher, and a bully of a man who thinks about little but baseball and fishing. All of them have been re-living these same 24-hours much longer than Bobby has, but they are no closer to figuring out where they are than he is.
So are they in heaven, or are they in some grotesque version of hell? That depends on whom you ask, and when Bobby decides this can’t be the peaceful heaven that Mama tells them it is, things turn nasty for Bobby and anyone who thinks the way he does. Bobby wants out – but he has a few things to do first.
There Will Be Stars gives the reader a lot to think about…and that’s a good thing.
(Review Copy provided by Publisher for review)