Saturday, May 18, 2013

Life After Life by Jill McCorkle

Recently a friend recommended a new novel, Life After Life. She did not recall (or I did not retain) the author's name, but I did write down the title and took it out of the library. Reading it became an odd experience. The story seemed to connect in some way to my friend's report, but not well. I thought I'd misunderstood what she told me and kept reading.

Life After Life by Jill McCorkle—her tenth work of fiction—has an interesting structure. Set mainly in and around a North Carolina retirement center, every chapter is written from a different point of view, eight major characters. One of these characters maintains a journal of the last moments of and significant incidents in the lives of the elderly who die in her presence. Plus every dead person gets a page or two of poetic ruminations.

The characters range from a 12-year-old whose parents are on the verge of splitting up to an elderly former school teacher who knew virtually everybody in the small town in which the novel is set. The significant characters (or the ones with which I could identify best) were the elderly. The widow who has moved to this town and signed herself into this retirement home because it's the town her one great love had come from. The retired school teacher who spends her time making pictures for other residents to enjoy. The retired (male) lawyer who adopts a fake persona because he does not want to burden his child.

The lives touch and cross and split off and wind around. McCorkle asks a lot of her reader: that we keep in mind who is who, who is related and in what way, and who is doing what to whom. Nevertheless, I thought the beauty of the writing sustained my interest, and I am glad I've read the book.

It turns out, my friend was recommending Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, which was published a week after McCorkle's novel. It sounds like another good and interesting book. I'll try to look it up.

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