Pine Haven Estates, a retirement community in Fulton, North Carolina, houses a variety of older people who are served by staff members. Residents, employees and visitors are introduced to readers in descriptions so vivid that we feel as if we know them.
Joanna Lamb is a hospice volunteer who has returned to her hometown with a calling not only to assist the dying to a gentle, good death, but also to keep their memories alive by describing them in her notebook. Joanna's path to redemption has been long and bumpy, including several marriages, a near-death experience, and a final connection with her estranged father. Her best friend in Fulton is the tattooed and pierced C.J., a punk who lives above Joanna's hot dog joint with her baby boy. Joanna knows that C.J. likely would be voted the person least likely to be her best friend, yet the two women click in a tremendously satisfying way.
"LIFE AFTER LIFE is a page-turner with a number of thought-provoking layers that linger long after the last page is devoured, making it an emotionally gripping and satisfying read. Words fail to describe how much I loved this book..."
Resident and retired third-grade teacher Sadie Randolph is an eternal optimist who has her finger on the pulse of the town. She once taught most of the community and, in her heart, believes everyone is internally still around eight years old. Many of her former students visit her, including Ben Palmer and his sad 12-year-old daughter, Abby. Abby is awaiting and dreading the elaborate birthday party her mother is foisting on her, while grieving for the sudden loss of her adorable little dog, Dollbaby. Dollbaby has wandered before, but always has been found. All Abby wants for her birthday is the return of her pet --- although she believes a parental divorce would be another bonus (at least it would stop the incessant arguing Abby must endure). Meanwhile, she spends time in the cemetery near her home reading the gravestones and the mysterious notes she finds on them when she is not with Sadie, her best friend and mentor.
Stanley Stone was once a prominent lawyer with a lovely wife. After Martha Stone's death, Stanley became a resident at Pine Haven Estates. He is disheveled, blatantly obnoxious and profane with the other residents, and downright cruel to his gentle son Ned, who frequently visits him. Yet all is not as it appears with Stanley. Toby Tyler, one of his friends in the retirement community, manages to find humor in his actions, drawing on an empathy honed from her own life experiences.
Another resident, northerner Rachel Silverman, catches glimmers of something below Stanley Stone's crass exterior. Rachel has traveled to Fulton on a secret mission, which is partially fulfilled by her conversations within the cemetery. Meanwhile, she finds herself appalled by some of the conventions surrounding her, from the syrupy sweet tea to the racism of the detestably holier-than-thou resident Marge Walker. As a newcomer, Rachel tends to stay secluded, but soon she finds a kinship with Sadie and Toby while keeping her eye on the flirtatious yet inappropriate Stanley.
Author Jill McCorkle manages to give readers a lyrical meditation on life and death through characters so third-dimensional they could stroll right off the page. LIFE AFTER LIFE is a page-turner with a number of thought-provoking layers that linger long after the last page is devoured, making it an emotionally gripping and satisfying read. Words fail to describe how much I loved this book; I can only hope that many readers will experience it for themselves.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on March 29, 2013
Life After Life