Life After Life

Jill McCorkle. Algonquin/Shannon Ravenel, $24.95 (340p) ISBN 978-1-56512-255-0
At the edge of death, one key memory will take hold: a meal in a beautiful restaurant, a humiliating sexual rejection, or a sky full of fireworks and stars. In McCorkle’s sixth novel (after Going Away Shoes), she returns to her native North Carolina for an unsparing look at the regrets that haunt the end of a life. McCorkle’s saddest and most unlovable characters are her most compelling; single mother C.J. is desperate not to repeat her mother’s cycle of prostitution and suicide but knows she faces long odds. Stanley enters a nursing home and feigns dementia to keep his son Ned at a distance, reflecting, “How awful to come to the end and see that all you’ve been is another goddamned link in the chain that keeps out the happiness.” Mired in a hopeless marriage, Ben tries to reach out to his daughter Abby with magic tricks. Vanishing girls are a recurring theme; some are lost but a few, through luck and kindness, have their lives and loves restored. Hospice volunteer Joanna, Ben’s childhood friend and former assistant, is the point of connection among many storylines; she comforts the dying and records what she knows of their lives, and, like McCorkle, she’s more interested in capturing moments that ring true than in providing closure. In the end it’s not at all clear that families or childhood loves will reconcile and have happy endings, which is a lot like life. Agent: Liz Darhansoff, Darhansoff & Verrill. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/14/2013
Release date: 03/01/2013
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