Set in Fulton, NC, Life After Life: A Novel explores the precarious lines between life and death. The reader follows the interior journey of various characters, with each chapter narrated by someone different.
Joanna is a hospice volunteer, but her own life has been quirky and free-spirited. Described as someone who has been married numerous times, we also see that there is much more to this woman than what is on the surface. At a time when she almost took her own life, she met Luke. Someone she credits with her new lease on life and her new purpose. When she goes home to Fulton, as her father is dying, she begins her hospice work and shares the experiences of the dying, as well as those who are living in the higher level of care at the facility. She practices a concept passed to her from Luke that he called “unpacking the heart.” A process of closing one’s eyes and setting aside everything taking up space in the heart—grievances, relationships, and projects—and putting them out on a make-believe lawn, leaving the heart free and clean.
Another philosophical mantra for Joanna is that “the longest and most expensive journey you will ever take is the one to yourself.”
In some of the narrative entries, we travel with the characters that include Sadie, Rachel, C. J., Stanley, and others…while they traverse the journey that formed their individual lives at a time when there is more of their life behind them than ahead of them. I could connect to these characters, to the losses, the regrets, and the hopes and dreams that remain.
Also among the characters is a child called Abby, whose father is an old friend of Joanna’s. This child is a frequent visitor to Sadie, the woman who believes in reframing one’s life by cutting out the parts of reality that don’t work for us. She seems like a mentor for the child. In many ways, though, the child did not seem to fit among the other characters. Perhaps her purpose was to show the life continuum, from young to old.
Disjointed at times, the story was also hard to follow in the beginning, as only tidbits were revealed about each character. It took awhile to see the connections between them. The narratives of Joanna and Rachel were the most meaningful to me and made the story better. I would recommend this book to those who enjoy posing philosophical questions and pondering life and death issues. For me this book earned 3.5 stars.