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Beauty of Souls
This engrossing novel tells the story of an advertising executive who learns about friendship, love, and allowing the highest good to triumph after he gets involved with the mob.
Jim Armond is in serious trouble. His business and marriage are on the verge of failure, and his best friend has been linked to the mob. When Jim meets Jack — the voice he's been hearing all his life who has suddenly decided to step out of the shadows of his mind — the experience leaves Jim questioning his sanity and leads to a chain of events that causes Jim's life to teeter between transformation and tragedy. Jack has told Jim that he is in control of all events that occur in his life. But can Jim be certain?
Louie Rivella, Jim's best friend, has borrowed money from the mob, and now he can't repay his debt. Jim decides to intervene, but he soon discovers that his assets are frozen in divorce proceedings. Now both friends' lives are in jeopardy. When Louie has a heart attack at his bar, spirit and the divine intervene. Out of the crowd emerges Angelina Parish. As she and Jim kneel to administer CPR to Louie, her hand touches Jim's, and an event occurs that has a transformational effect on everyone in the room — except the mobsters.
Jim is sure that he has discovered his soul mate in Angelina, but he still has to face the mob. Can Jim overcome the specter of certain death awaiting him?
J. Byron Lasko's Beauty of Souls is a novel of the best sort. It is a book that entertains, mostly through snappy dialogue and characters who spring to life on the page. But more than that, it is a book that makes you think. Unless you are the most hardened nihilist, the most narrow of realists, this book will make you consider metaphysical and spiritual possibilities you never imagined before.
The story is narrated by Jim Armond, the glib owner of a small ad agency in New York. Jim's defense against the world, and as a cushion for his past, is humor. He just can't resist cracking a joke, no matter how dire the circumstances. And when you find out just how dysfunctional, how absolutely horrid his family was, you'll wonder that he's not Robin Williams on a speed binge. Discounting violence, Jim's family makes the Mansons look like "The Brady Bunch."The book opens, and indeed mostly takes place in, a bar owned by Jim's best friend, Louie. Louie has tenuous connections to the mob, and he peppers his conversation with references to "The Godfather," a movie he seems to know by heart. He is tough and gritty, but in an old-pal-from-the-neighborhood kind of way. He's honest and true to his friends, as is Jim, and it is Louie's difficulty paying off a debt to a mobster named Nicky Tuna that provides the catalyst for the story.
Jim's life, too, teeters on the verge of failure. Both his marriage and his business are on the rocks, and while these seem like cliches, Lasko is able to make them appear both fresh and genuine. In fact, through deft characterization, he manages to take another story involving a neighborhood in New York and turn it into something original. And, he manages to combine two elements that make this a uniquely unconventional story. One night, after a few too many Dewar's on the rocks, Jim meets a stranger named Jack. It's not giving away too much to say that Jack is a manifestation of Jim's higher self, a part of his consciousness connected to the greater consciousness of the universe, and thus to God. Stories of this sort generally take place in Nepal or a far province of China, but Lasko plops it down in a New York neighborhood of working stiffs and people just trying to get by. And he makes it work.
This, however, is only the beginning, for Jim meets another manifestation of a different part of his consciousness, and this one is female. And, in one mind-blowing scene, Jim actually jams with Jesus Christ himself, who likes to play jazz piano and wants people to call him "Josh."
This may all sound a bit out there, but believe me, when you read it you'll think it really happened.
And maybe it did. On his website, Lasko says, "... the psychic, spiritual and personal experiences I write about in Beauty of Souls are all real." He's known people "... who are highly evolved both spiritually and intellectually and who live and work right in our midst." I don't know about others, but I find it comforting to know that some people might represent a link to a different plane of existence. This reality of mortgages and pain and bars and coworkers can't be all that there is.
Anyway, Jim is forced into action -- or is he? He stands by his friend, Louie, and in doing so meets Angelina Parish, who just might literally be his soul mate. Complications arise and a deadline looms, with dire consequences if Nick Tuna doesn't get his money.
Thankfully, there are no outlandish car chases, no unrealistic shootouts where a waitress suddenly knows how to use a semi-automatic weapon. There is, however, a final showdown. I won't give anything away.
The Midwest Book Review
I looked back at Louie and his face was turning icy blue. "I think he's in cardiac arrest." Suddenly, a woman was on her knees across from me, holding Louie's face in her hands.
"Are you a doctor? Please tell me you are." I asked.
"No, I'm a paralegal. But I've had CPR training and I worked as a volunteer EMT in college. Tilt his head back."
She now had both her hands on Louie's chest and was pressing down with all her weight and counting out loud, "One, one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand, four one thousand, five one thousand." She leaned over, pinching Louie's nose, and attempted mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. I looked in his face, praying for the flush of life to return, but there was no response — only blue lips and gazing eyes distant, like the dreams of a corpse. She began pressing on his chest again and she repeated the mouth-to-mouth — nothing. She repeated it a third time with still no response. "I think we've lost him," she softly remarked, noticing the tears welling in my eyes.
"Let's do it again together. Please?"
She silently nodded, embracing my pain, and I realized that she had already given up on Louie and only agreed to continue for my benefit. I placed my hands on his chest, as I had seen her do, and as she leaned forward to join me, her hair gently brushed my cheek, and I could smell her perfume. It was an aroma I had known from way back, so familiar, but I just couldn't place when. "Okay, together on one," she began to say, and then it happened. It was the moment that would change all of our lives forever.