Synopses & Reviews
From "a fiercely intelligent writer" (the New York Times
), a wry, poignant story of the difficult love between a mother and a son.
In the winter of 2000, shortly after his mothers death from cancer and malnourishment, Donald Antrim, author of the absurdist, visionary masterworks Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World, The Hundred Brothers, and The Verificationist, began writing about his family. In pieces that appeared in the New Yorker and were anthologized in Best American Essays, Antrim explored his intense and complicated relationships with his mother, Louanne, an artist and teacher who was, at her worst, a ferociously destabilized and destabilizing alcoholic; his gentle grandfather, who lived in the mountains of North Carolina and who always hoped to save his daughter from herself; and his father, who married Louanne twice.
The Afterlife is not a temporally linear coming-of-age memoir; instead, Antrim follows a logic of unconscious life, of dreams and memories, of fantasies and psychoses, the way in which the world of the alcoholic becomes a sleepless, atemporal world. In it, he comes to terms with and fails to comes to terms with the nature of addiction and the broken states of loneliness, shame, and loss that remain beyond his power to fully repair. This is a tender and even blackly hilarious portrait of a family faulty, cracked, enraging. It is also the story of the way the author works, in part through writing this book, to become a man more fully alive to himself and to others, a man capable of a life in which he may never learn, or ever hope to know, the nature of his origins.
"Acclaimed novelist Antrim (The Verificationist) makes his first foray into memoir with a moving attempt at tracing the roots of his own depression, anxiety and trouble with women. He does this by examining his relationship to his life-threateningly alcoholic mother, Louanne, who wrecked two marriages to the same man and irrevocably scarred her children. In the most comical of the book's seven associatively organized parts (most were New Yorker pieces), Antrim tries, shortly after Louanne's death in 2000, to buy himself a new bed, only to be goaded by guilt and paranoia into buying and returning several. Another piece focuses on a bizarre kimono Louanne, a highly skilled seamstress, made late in her life, complete with sewn on giraffe, mystic birds and potpourri pouches. In the powerful final episode, during Louanne's last big hallucinatory drunk, while dragons fly about her head, Antrim must find the strength to become his mother's parent. Cynical, self-effacing and humorous prose conveys Antrim's struggle to love someone from whom he must always protect himself. While readers may want more penetrating self-analysis and narrative gaps filled in, this is a compassionate portrait of a flawed and destructive woman who, in spite of her son's enduring (if reluctantly given) devotion, couldn't be saved from herself. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A polished stylist, penetrating thinker, and deft storyteller, Antrim not only portrays his family with sensitivity, nerve, and wit but also writes incisively about the strange wearable art his fashion-expert mother created, considers the sanctuary of literature, and reflects on visions of the afterlife, thus infusing a haunting remembrance with arresting testimony to the power of art and the mystery of spirit." Donna Seaman, Booklist
"[A] brave, anxious, and eerily ardent memoir... Antrim's intricate narrative is at once a portrait of a family in crisis and of a haunted man who must learn to give up the ghost." O, The Oprah Magazine
"The book is darkly entertaining but also perhaps enlightening, giving readers insight into familial relationships that are poignant but also uplifting." Mark Alan Williams, Library Journal
"For Antrim, his role as witness and teller of a tale of death ends up paradoxically enabling his mother to live forever." Los Angeles Times
"Evident throughout are Antrim's considerable narrative gifts. He knows the virtues of conciseness and simplicity and brisk dialogue. But he also knows the occasional necessity of complexity." Cleveland Plain Dealer
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
In the winter of 2000, shortly after his mother's death, Donald Antrim began writing about his family. In pieces that appeared in The New Yorker
and were anthologized in Best American Essays,
Antrim explored his intense and complicated relationships with his mother, Louanne, an artist, teacher, and ferociously destabilizing alcoholic; his gentle grandfather, who lived in the mountains of North Carolina and who always hoped to save his daughter from herself; and his father, who married his mother twice.
The Afterlife is an elliptical, sometimes tender, sometimes blackly hilarious portrait of a family--faulty, cracked, enraging--and of a man struggling to learn the nature of his origins.
About the Author
Donald Antrim is the author of Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World, The Hundred Brothers, and The Verificationist. He is a regular contributor to the New Yorker, and has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. He lives in New York City.