Life After Life

Algonquin. Mar. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9781565122550. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616201777. F
It takes a skillful author to write a book about death that leaves the reader feeling uplifted, and McCorkle (Going Away Shoes) is such an author. Her multilayered new novel centers on the colorful residents of Pine Haven Retirement Center in small-town North Carolina. We learn why each resident is at the center, and about their lives and families, but two women who work at the facility are also central to the story. Most intriguing is the intersection between life and death created by entries from the journal of a hospice worker named Joanna. Joanna's recollections of a patient's death are immediately followed by the dying person's last thoughts and memories. Characters are introduced then exit, reinforcing the theme of disappearing, of moving in and out of life and relationships, with some characters quickly letting go and others holding on to the past.
VERDICT This excellent novel, unusual in its shifting construction, will be appreciated by readers drawn to stories about older characters, or death and dying, but there is much more to it. Fans of Southern writers such as Lee Smith and Kaye Gibbons should definitely give it a try.
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