Life after Life

Sometimes, no, make that always, a problem with making friends with another avid reader is that your already lengthy reading stack gets taller and taller. Let me illustrate. Friend Ellen Ruffin called to see if I would like to go with her to the Louisiana Book Festival. Now, who could turn down that kind of invitation? She particularly wanted to hear Jill McCorkle, a favorite author to her but a new one to me.

Jill entertained us with her conservative mother’s dilemma of whether to tell her friends that her daughter wrote books because of some of her characters’ language and situations. Then she began to tell about the book idea that had lingered in her head for twenty-one years, coming to the forefront when her father was dying. She read excerpts from Life after Life, this novel based in a hospice situation told from the points of view of the case worker Joanna, the patients, a friend, and one twelve-year-old. A couple of quotes from the book will illustrate why I needed to add it to my stack.

“Sometimes your only chance to beat out a prejudice is to outlive it.”

“Everyone has a weakness and how humans can live with devoting time to rubbing salt in and on another, she will never know.”

Contrary to what you might think, the book is not a downer, though it is filled with death. I think that may be because it reflects something Jill said in her speech, “At the end, we are our memories and the memories we leave behind us in other people.” The memories of the patients and the entries in Joanna’s journal brought empathy rather than pity with those who were facing death and their caregivers. She demonstrated the richness that was left in the lives of these people even as their bodies began to fail.

The book brought a new fan for Jill McCorkle and another set of books to add to my stack – and this is just the stack I need to get to soon. I think I’ll add Tending to Virginia first since the name seems to resonate.

And should you decide to make friends with an avid reader, don’t say I didn’t warn you about the consequences.