Two current novels published in the U.S. within a week of each other are entitled Life After Life, one by Kate Atkinson (reviewed earlier on this blog) and one by Jill McCorkle (reviewed right here). Titles aside, these books could hardly be more different. English novelist Atkinson’s Life is set in Europe and spans much of the 20th century, while American writer McCorkle’s, set within the last few years, takes place in the Pine Haven Retirement Facility in Fulton, North Carolina.
Given its locale, it’s no surprise that most of the characters in McCorkle’s novel are elderly, but the character who anchors the book is middle-aged hospice volunteer Joanna Lamb, who touches the lives of many of Pine Haven’s residents, as well as those of CJ, a twenty-something single mom working as the retirement home’s beautician, and Abby, a twelve-year-old so unhappy at home that she escapes almost daily into the welcoming arms at Pine Haven.
McCorkle paints her characters from a variety of viewpoints—straight omniscient third-person, selections from Joanna’s notes memorializing people she’s served, and first-person glimpses into many of the characters. Abby’s mother, Kendra, who is more a caricature than a character. Otherwise, the novel brims with complex and interesting people.
There’s an endearing sweetness to Life After Life, but the ending—which I found unsatisfyingly unresolved and abrupt—left me disappointed.