In May 2022, the United States passed a tragic milestone of the coronavirus pandemic: the death of the one millionth American from Covid-19. It takes a writer with the sensitivity and skill of Nicholas Montemarano to transform a statistic, even one as sad and shocking as this one, into a compelling story. If There Are Any Heavens: A Memoir is the heartbreaking account in verse of the death of Montemarano's 79-year-old mother, Catherine, in mid-January 2021, and a profoundly moving portrait of a son's love for his mother.
On January 6, 2021, Montemarano left his home in Lancaster, Pa., where he teaches creative writing at Franklin & Marshall College, and drove 10 hours to the home of his parents in the small town of Nappanee, Ind., their home in retirement. Both his parents had contracted Covid just before Christmas "near the end of the year/ people called the worst." Though his father suffered from an array of what has come to be known in the pandemic era as "co-morbidities," it's his mother who develops double pneumonia, and when her blood oxygen drops to a dangerously low level, she's rushed to the emergency room and then hospitalized. Montemarano painstakingly documents the final 10 days of his mother's life and the desperate efforts made to save her.
If There Are Any Heavens is a book whose substance and form match perfectly. Montemarano's spare, incantatory style is well-suited to his chosen format. 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. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer