Next Life Might be Kinder
"After my wife, Elizabeth Church, was murdered by the bellman Alfonse Padgett in the Essex Hotel, she did not leave me." This is the provocative opening sentence of Howard Norman's latest novel, NEXT LIFE MIGHT BE KINDER. Following his wife's recent murder, only a few months into their short marriage, the narrator, Sam Lattimore, has moved from Halifax to the small town of Port Medway, Nova Scotia. There, most nights, he walks down to the beach, where he sees his dead wife lining up books. Sometimes he talks to her, hoping to keep her coming back and to make up for the many ways he thinks he's failed her.
Primary among these is the fact that, nearly penniless upon his wife's death, Sam was convinced to sell their life story to a filmmaker who's now making a feature film based on Elizabeth's final months. Now, however, having met the pompous director and seen the liberties the movie is making with the couple's life and relationship, Sam feels deep regret over allowing their story to be told this way.
"As in Norman's previous work, he portrays Nova Scotia and its inhabitants as quirky, unpredictable, often funny, even maybe a bit magical. But his portrayal of grief and loss is real, genuine and universal."
He outlines his regrets, as well as his anger at himself and at the film crew, during his weekly therapy appointments. Accounts of these conversations alternate with Sam's current life in Port Medway (where he struggles to work on a failed novel and endures periodic visits from the film director's busybody assistant) and flashbacks to his brief marriage with Elizabeth. The couple lived a seemingly idyllic newlywed existence, taking up residence in an apartment in the Essex Hotel and pursuing their shared passion for writing (and for each other). Sam spent his married days working on the same novel (and paying the rent by writing for CBC radio), while Elizabeth threw herself into writing her dissertation on an obscure novel, taking Lindy dance classes in the evening for a change of pace.
As Sam narrates his past and present, the reader comes away with a rich portrait of a man in love and sorrow. Although his grief manifests itself in mystical waterside visions of Elizabeth, the loss he feels is concrete. Sam, like many people suffering from grief, detests the word "closure," saying, "If you love someone and they suddenly disappear --- say they die --- there is no closure. It's like, it's like --- what? --- it's like a Bach cello composition playing in your head that doesn't let up. You can't predict for how long. What if it's for the rest of your life? You don't just get closure. You don't just come to terms and then move on."
As in Norman's previous work, he portrays Nova Scotia and its inhabitants as quirky, unpredictable, often funny, even maybe a bit magical. But his portrayal of grief and loss is real, genuine and universal.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 30, 2014
Next Life Might be Kinder
- Publication Date: May 13, 2014
- Genres: Fiction
- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
- ISBN-10: 054771212X
- ISBN-13: 9780547712123