The Great Divorce, by C. S. Lewis
After this book came up in conversation a little while ago, I had to re-read it. It is just such a great book. If you're not familiar with C. S. Lewis, this is a pretty good introductory volume, though I suppose The Screwtape Letters is better for that purpose. The Great Divorce is similar, though, in that it uses a fanciful trope to explore Christian theology in a way that gives the reader an interesting story to read.
The story here is given as a dream or vision, in which the narrator is wandering in a large and dreary city. He finds a queue at a bus stop and joins the line, and finds himself on a field trip to the edge of Heaven itself. Heaven is much more real than the passengers are, though; the grass hurts to walk on and the people look semi-transparent. Everyone is greeted by someone they knew in life, who wants to take them up into Heaven and assures them that they will firm up along the way and be able to bear it--and the passengers are a bit reluctant for various reasons.
Lewis was always so good at understanding what people are like. Whenever I open this, or Screwtape, I am usually immediately given a little sketch of something that I do myself. Here, as the Ghosts meet their escorts, we see all these little episodes of the interactions and recognize traits we may have ourselves. There is a woman who spouts a constant stream of small complaints, a man with a habit of dramatic posturing, and so on. Meanwhile, the narrator meets his escort, who does some explaining.
Of course, Lewis wasn't trying to describe Heaven or Hell, he was talking about people and how we cling to our petty faults or let them go--and beyond that, he was trying to show how we all choose our final destination ourselves. And he does it with a sense of humor. It's a very short little book that doesn't take long to read, but the people stick in your mind. Great stuff.
I suppose I ought to get a new copy sometime; mine is a paperback from the 70s--with the requisite hideous cover--and is falling apart.