By Chet Yarbrough
By: Jill McCorkle
Narrated by: Holly Fielding
At a certain age everyone disappears according to Jill McCorkle in her book, Life After Life. McCorkle writes multiple stories about several intertwined lives. McCorkle’s implied tautology is that all life is subject to disappearance; i.e. sometimes during life; most often, after death. Disappearance, particularly while alive, comes from a lack of empathy or understanding. Loss of empathy makes the young and misunderstood, and the old and disabled disappear. Every time one fails to listen to what someone is saying, they disappear. Disappearance after death comes from loss of remembrance; i.e. if one’s life is not recorded, it is forgotten. McCorkle’s book is about disappearance of the only life one lives. (Kate Atkinson also wrote a book titled Life After Life. However Atkinson’s story is a “Slaughter House Five”’ resurrection about an alternative life for the same person. Atkinson’s alternative lives are the result of small changes in the history of one person’s life.)
McCorkle’s story is mostly set in a nursing home with residents, attendants, and visitors who interact with, or reminisce about their life. McCorkle reveals fears of how being misunderstood, being alone, incapacitated, or in a loveless marriage makes one disappear. These fears come at all stages of life; i.e. from childhood, to adulthood, to old age. The scabs formed over mistakes made in life are ripped off in McCorkle’s book. Hubris, selfishness, human degradation, lying, infidelity, and other human fallibilities bleed into the present from thoughts of the past, and actions of the present.
In the beginning, McCorkle’s book seems like a series of short stories but as the story progresses, character’s lives become intertwined. A teacher, two lawyers, an amateur magician, wives, lovers, and a prepubescent child tell their stories. Their journeys through life find them or lead them back to their home town. They either know each other or have heard rumors about their deeds, misdeeds, and adventures. Life being lived in McCorkle’s book simmers and then boils over into murder.
McCorkle infers that love is a multifaceted experience that leads to happiness, but love is not guaranteed either by wealth, security, or intimacy. McCorkle’s story shows that poverty wears people down, infidelity drives discontent, and every life, whether well or poorly lived, eventually disappears. McCorkle shows one may get an extension of remembrance by having their life experience written down. However, in McCorkle’s story, extended-remembrance is as likely a newspaper article about murder as about a life well-lived.