Saturday, April 20, 2013

"Life After Life," by Jill McCorkle

Oddly, two novels with the same title – “Life After Life” – have very recently been published, one by Jill McCorkle and one by Kate Atkinson, both wonderful writers whose prior fiction I have read and appreciated. Today I am writing about Jill McCorkle’s version of “Life After Life” (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2013). (I can’t resist adding -- although it is not strictly relevant -- that I enjoy typing “Chapel Hill” because my daughter went to the university there for her undergraduate degree and loved it.) This novel is set mainly in the Pine Center Retirement Facility in the small town of Fulton, North Carolina. It describes the lives – past and present – of several residents at that home, along with some of their family members, friends, neighbors, and assistants. The main character, Joanna, who is both a character and an observer of the other characters, originally came from this town, but has been away for years, traveling, marrying three times, and trying to figure out her life. She recently came back to the area to take care of her father during his dying days, and to be a hospice worker. Her friend C.J. runs the beauty salon in Pine Haven. Both of these young-to-middle-aged women have many issues and secrets, but are gaining peace and hope for better futures. Their stories are interesting, but the residents of Pine Haven and their lives and memories are the most compelling. The story of the admirable, wise and kind former teacher, 85-year-old Sadie, and the way she helps the other residents through her art work recreating scenes in their lives, is particularly engaging and touching. Sadie also befriends the young girl Abby, who badly needs her affection, reassurance, and guidance, since the girl's mother is unbelievably selfish and cruel, and her father, while loving, is distracted and passive. McCorkle understands older people, and treats them first and foremost as people -- like any other characters -- rather than focusing on their ages as their main or even only defining identities (as too many writers and others do), while acknowledging the role and meaning of aging in their lives. As I have written here before, there are not enough novels about older people, and even fewer that are insightful and respectful, acknowledging that older people are the same people as when they were younger, and not some separate category of humankind. So I welcome this novel on that basis, as well as because it creates a small world (though always influenced by the larger world out there) that catches the reader up in its stories and makes us care about the characters. The world McCorkle creates here -- like the larger world -- is full of love, hate, violence, sadness, cruelty, caring, the unexpected, joy, appreciation of life, reconciliation, and redemption.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Site Meter