cover image The Afterlife: A Memoir

The Afterlife: A Memoir

Donald Antrim, . . Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $20 (195pp) ISBN 978-0-374-29961-3

Acclaimed novelist Antrim (The Verificationist ) makes his first foray into memoir with a moving attempt at tracing the roots of his own depression, anxiety and trouble with women. He does this by examining his relationship to his life-threateningly alcoholic mother, Louanne, who wrecked two marriages to the same man and irrevocably scarred her children. In the most comical of the book's seven associatively organized parts (most were New Yorker pieces), Antrim tries, shortly after Louanne's death in 2000, to buy himself a new bed, only to be goaded by guilt and paranoia into buying and returning several. Another piece focuses on a bizarre kimono Louanne, a highly skilled seamstress, made late in her life, complete with sewn on giraffe, mystic birds and potpourri pouches. In the powerful final episode, during Louanne's last big hallucinatory drunk, while dragons fly about her head, Antrim must find the strength to become his mother's parent. Cynical, self-effacing and humorous prose conveys Antrim's struggle to love someone from whom he must always protect himself. While readers may want more penetrating self-analysis and narrative gaps filled in, this is a compassionate portrait of a flawed and destructive woman who, in spite of her son's enduring (if reluctantly given) devotion, couldn't be saved from herself. (June)