"Life After Life"

Life After Life by Jill McCorkle

What an interesting novel. So interesting that when I came to the end I felt there were things I had missed, and I read it again from the beginning. These aren't just characters, they are people, people with real stories. But let me back up a bit.

It begins with Joanna, a young woman who sits with dying patients and does what she can to ease the transition for the patient and their family members. Sometimes this takes place in the patient's home, but mostly it's in the retirement/nursing home that is the main setting for this book.

The residents in the retirement section are all able to look after themselves fairly well, and when they can no longer do that they move into the nursing section. The stories of residents and workers, and one little neighbourhood girl, and how they came to be there wind together with more and more connections revealing themselves as you go. Past and present are equally relevant to the narrative, which is far more intense than you expect for a book in this setting. And I was right, I had missed some things that I didn't see until the second reading.

I'll warn you that there's a lot of less-than-polite language. The f-word is prevalent, and one of the chapters is quite raunchy. Sometimes I can't get past all that, but in this book it didn't seem to be used for shock value or as a mask for an inadequate vocabulary. The words are used in intense situations of anger or hopelessness and the raunchy bits are a cynical young woman remembering a past she's ashamed of. Parts of it are bleak, but there is also grace and goodness and beauty. 

The characters are vibrantly real, all completely unique and as complicated as living through decades of  joy and tragedy can make them. I think they are people you might like to meet.