An accessible and big-hearted novel that explores belief and forgiveness as a boy grapples with his faith and sexuality on a rollicking family road trip to Bible World.
ELI HARPO’S ADVENTURE TO THE AFTERLIFE
by Eric Schlich
The Overlook Press/Abrams, January 2024
When Eli Harpo was three, he underwent emergency open-heart surgery, flatlined on the operating table, and for a brief time, went to heaven and met Jesus. Or at least that’s what his father, a loving but devout Baptist minister, has raised him to believe.
Ten years later, Eli isn’t so sure. His rounds with his father to evangelize at hospices and sell his father’s self-published book, Heaven or Bust!, feel inauthentic and strange, especially now that he’s started having sex dreams about Jesus. Between that and his mother’s terminal breast cancer diagnosis, Eli feels further from heaven than ever. But when the famous televangelist Charlie Gideon shows up at the Harpos’ doorstep with a proposal to create a new attraction based on Eli’s trip to the afterlife at his Bible-themed park, Eli isn’t able to say no.
As the Harpos head off on a rollicking road trip from Kentucky to Bible World in Orlando, Eli is left to grapple with not just his faith and his sexuality, but also his own parents’ messy humanity and what happens when a family held together by mythmaking starts coming apart at the seams. Hilarious and moving, Eli Harpo’s Adventure to the Afterlife is a big-hearted story about self-discovery and the search for truth, wherever it takes you.
Eric Schlich is the author of the story collection Quantum Convention, which received the 2018 Katherine Anne Porter Prize and the 2020 GLCA New Writers Award in Fiction. His work has appeared in numerous publications and has been selected for prizes by writers including Roxane Gay, Helen Oyeyemi, and Justin Torres. He holds a PhD in fiction from Florida State University and an MFA from Bowling Green State University. He lives in Tennessee, where he is an assistant professor at the University of Memphis.