Jill McCorkle’s LIFE AFTER LIFE, her first novel in 17 years, is something to celebrate. Set in the Pine Haven retirement center, the cast of characters --- and they are all characters --- touched me as I came to know each of them. Their “stories” meant even more as I learned how they each connected with one another as the book unfolded with many “aha” moments. The residents, staff and neighbors of Pine Haven include a retired schoolteacher, a prominent lawyer who is now fighting dementia, a woman who has moved there from Connecticut for reasons no one understands, a feisty young mother who runs the beauty shop, a hospice volunteer who sees her work as a calling, and a 12-year-old girl named Abby who sees the nursing home as her second home.
There’s a lot of warmth and affection among the characters, as well as bonds that nurture and comfort them all. I am at an age where many of my friends are shepherding their parents through nursing homes or home health care. While there is sadness that accompanies this chapter of life, there can also be joy in small things, which is something I came away from LIFE AFTER LIFE thinking about. Growing old is a natural chapter of life, and seeing those who care take at this stage with anything from a hand massage after a manicure, to a hand held as life slips away, make this time matter. Those with whom you end your life can mean as much as those who lived the earlier years with you. Jill is showing here how small things matter as well as the large.
I read LIFE AFTER LIFE in September in manuscript form, and the message of the book has stayed with me. Life is to be celebrated. Always. This is perfect for book group discussions. There will be so many angles to explore!
By the way, I saw Jill at Winter Institute in Kansas City in February, and she promised that readers will not have to wait 17 more years to see a novel from her. I am holding her to that!