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Life After Life    by Jill McCorkle order for
Life After Life
by Jill McCorkle
Order:  USA  Can
Algonquin, 2013 (2013)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

It has been seventeen years since Jill McCorkle produced her last novel. It has been a long time but most readers will agree that Life After Life is certainly worth the wait.

Set in Fulton, North Carolina, the bulk of this novel of self-discovery unfolds in the Pine Haven Retirement Center. Naturally, the residents of Pine Haven, along with some of the staff and an occasional visitor, are on center stage as we come to realize that while some journeys will soon be ending, others are just beginning.

Of the key characters, some of the most provocative and interesting include Stanley Stone, who feigns dementia for reasons you'll discover as you read the story, and Rachel Silverman, who has retired to the home town of her former lover to only perhaps discover a new love in her twilight years.

Toby Tyler, one of two retired schoolteachers, acts as a foil to Sadie Randolph, the sweet elementary instructor who sees everyone as forever eight years old. Tyler, who taught high school, has a far more jaded but realistic view of her fellow seniors and life in general.

Hospice volunteer Joanna Lamb has been married multiple times, and has returned to her home town to operate the family business she inherited and also record the last words of the individuals she sits with during their final hours.

Joanna has come to realize that 'the longest and most expensive journey is the one to yourself'. She has already traveled a long way on her journey from California, New York, Chicago and New England back to North Carolina, but there's still quite a way to go. By assisting others as their lives come to an end, Joanna works towards a greater understanding of her own fractured existence.

Abby, a twelve year old who lives near Pine Haven, spends a lot of time with some of the residents, especially Sadie, because she is seeking solace from dysfunctional parents and the child feels a close bond with individuals who are surrogate grandparents.

Given the novel's ending, C.J. is another outsider who plays an important role in the story. The heavily pierced and tattooed young woman is a single mother who does the hair and nails of the residents of the facility. A tragic childhood and difficult past have brought C.J. to this juncture in her life and even though things seem to be improving, there are still storm clouds hovering on the horizon.

McCorkle writes that she has always loved composite pieces where the voices of the characters, like instruments, blend together to create a 'communal symphony of a particular place'.

She has accomplished that feat in this novel and the result is a memorable masterpiece that showcases the strengths and weaknesses of this fascinating cast of characters as well as reveals some of the secrets they have kept hidden for too long.

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