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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Book Review: Life After Life by Jill McCorkle

Jill McCorkle was the very first Southern author I was introduced to, back in college (although not in a class, I read her books for fun outside of class.) She's always been one of my very favorite authors.

The Pine Haven retirement center in North Carolina is home to Stanley, a former lawyer now obsessed with professional wrestling; Rachel, a former lawyer from Boston who has moved here to be near the grave of her lover; Toby, a former teacher; Madge, the wife of a respected judge; Sadie who makes photo collages putting the other residents in places they've never been. Also there is Joanna who works with hospice, C.J. who does hair and nails, and Abby, the little girl next door who feels more love from Sadie and the other residents than she ever has from her bitterly fighting parents.

While I did like this book, I think if it had been structured differently, it could have been better. There were what seemed like a dozen narrators, and initially while they do all know each other, it's unclear how or if the plot threads will marry up. Normally I am not a fan of short story collections, but I think this actually could have been more effective as a collections of interconnected stories, like Olive Kitteredge. Instead, since it is framed as a traditional novel, the characters and plot threads not fully resolved seem to stand out more to me. That said, it's still excellent. Jill McCorkle is a real master of dialogue and language. The characters are all fully developed and believable, unique and real. I especially liked Rachel and Joanna. I understand the ending is a shocker to a lot of people, and while I admit I didn't exactly see it coming, it didn't bother me. I love Ms. McCorkle's writing so much, and Life After Life is a wonderful story, featuring a segment of the population normally ignored, and showing us their pasts, their secrets, their desires, and their futures.

I got this book free after an event where the publisher's publicist left a few free Algonquin books.

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