Monday, January 14, 2013

Book Review: Afterwife

By Jami Deise

There’s a reason the play Our Town has remained a perennial favorite since it premiered in 1938. While the first two acts are ordinary, the final act, set at the funeral of protagonist Emily Webb Gibbs, is a reminder that we should not take anything in life for granted. Emily balks at going to heaven, begging to relieve just one day of her life – her 12th birthday. Posthumously, she realizes that life should be valued “every, every minute” and wonders whether anyone knows while they live how precious life really is. It’s a story and a theme that occurs in many types of fiction.

Author Polly Williams has written her own version of Our Town Afterwife -- and its story is just as affecting. After a lively dinner with her best friend Jenny, Londoner Sophie Brady is hit by a bus and dies. She leaves behind a beautiful, grief-stricken musician husband Ollie; their lovable six-year-old son Freddie, and Jenny, so shattered by Sophie’s death that she loses interest in her upcoming wedding to Sam.

More accurately, though, Sophie doesn’t leave them behind. She narrates from beyond, spying on her loved ones and reporting back on their efforts to get on with their lives. The book alternates chapters from the point of view of Sophie and Jenny, who teams up with Sophie’s suburban mother friends to help Ollie through his grief. Only these women have a lot more than help on their minds… and Sam begins to question Jenny’s attachment to Ollie as well. At the same time, Jenny learns that Sophie had secrets in her marriage, while Sophie realizes how much she took for granted while she was alive.

The blurb on the back of the book says that spirit Sophie is “determined to help her husband find love again – with the right sort of woman, of course.” That’s not really an accurate description, as Sophie is more of an observer who finds herself unable to influence the events she watches at all – save for setting off a random fire alarm.

Williams does an admirable job mixing comedy and pathos in the story. The tone never waives, even as the events she portrays go from heartbreaking to hilarious and back again. The minor characters in the book – Sophie’s mom friends – are numerous yet all clearly defined. Even the villainous characters are three dimensional enough that their actions could be excused.

My only complaint is that the book ends too abruptly, right after its obvious conclusion. I would have like to read a happily-ever-after denouement.

Five stars to Polly Williams for this engrossing, engaging comedy/drama.

Thanks to Penguin for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Polly Williams:

1 comment:

The Readingista said...

This sounds like a book that I would enjoy. That is a serious flaw in the synopsis. there is a big difference between being determined to take action and being a bystander. Thankfully a lousy synopsis doesn't keep us from enjoying a book. Thanks for the wonderful review.