by Sandra Newman

Grove Press/Grove Atlantic
2019, 259 pages, $26

ISBN 978-0-8021-2902-4

Click here to purchase

At a party in Manhattan, circa 2000, before the events of 9/11, before the very fabric of our world came undone, up to the pandemic that affects us 20 years later, two 20-somethings, Ben and Kate, meet. Kate has an ideal worldview that is benevolent, altruistic and devotional to the greater good of humanity.

Kate is also gifted with a sense that, through vivid, sometimes unexplainable dreams, she can alter reality.

In her dreams, Kate returns to 16th century Elizabethan England. Her name in this reality is Emilia, the daughter of a Queen’s musician. After her father dies at an early age, Emilia is given to a countess to do needlework. She is also gifted with the talent to play the lute.

In her life in Elizabethan England, Emilia becomes infatuated with a somewhat talented but unknown poet, a tag-along obsessive gentleman by the name of Will Shakespeare. Shakespeare is putting the finishing touches on an Italian play, a tragedy about young lovers, that to Emilia may seem wondrous if not a little mawkish.

Like the film “The Butterfly Effect,” Emilia/Kate’s return to 21st century America leaves strange and subtle changes, including the origin of her parents, people she recognized before the dream and other tangible factors. (For instance, in one return to the present, Ben has no idea who the playwright Shakespeare is. Kate suspects the bard died in her Emilia timeline, so on her return to Elizabethan England, she ensures Shakespeare lives.)

But are Kate’s dreams merely ephemera, the product of a racing mind, or are they real? For Emilia, her dreams are not of Kate’s present-day but of a far future timeline that gives us a cold, dead, abandoned world. Is this the inevitable timeline? Or can it be altered.

From page 76:

Ben woke an hour later and found Kate staring, sitting up in bed. When he asked her if anything was wrong, she said, “What if you had a chance to save the world?”

He said sleepily, “I guess you should do it.”

“But what if, in order to save it, you had to run the risk of making it worse?”

In THE HEAVENS, Newman writes in a strange, pervasive, sad way (she explains why in her afterword), despair that is long-lingering, about what happens to relationships destroyed by the ravages of time and circumstance. Characters survive or are taken away by a floodgate of happenstance. Reality is altered by dreams. What must be done to stop them? Kate finds a way, but that is also depressing.

Still, this novel will resonate for some, is worth your time and will make you re-examine your own dreams, good or ill.