cover image Next Life Might Be Kinder

Next Life Might Be Kinder

Howard Norman. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-0-547-71212-3

This somewhat far-fetched but nonetheless entertaining novel set in 1973 by Norman (The Bird Artist) involves a young man’s struggles to overcome his grief and rage. Thirtysomething Sam Lattimore, a novelist who has published his debut title and struggles to write his second one, lives at a Halifax hotel with his younger wife Elizabeth Church, a Ph.D. candidate writing her dissertation on the British author Marghanita Laski and her 1953 novel The Victorian Chaise-Lounge. While taking lindy dance lessons without Sam, Elizabeth partners with Alfonse Padgett, “a psychopathic thug in a bellman’s uniform.” After he assaults her and later Sam, the couple files a complaint with the hotel security, and the vengeful Padgett soon retaliates by fatally shooting Elizabeth. The devastated Sam begins his psychiatric sessions with the older Dr. Nissensen (these sessions form the opening of the book), in which Lattimore reveals he talks to Elizabeth’s spirit when they meet on the beach at night. Meanwhile, broke and confused by his grief, Sam sells the movie rights to Elizabeth’s lurid murder story to Peter Istvakson, an ambitious and “egotistical” film director. While Istvakson and his production crew shoot the movie on location in Halifax, he harasses the increasingly agitated Sam with personal questions about his marriage to juice up the movie’s realism—pushing Norman’s bittersweet yarn to a violent climax. [em](May) [/em]