62 of 66 people found the following review helpful
on August 5, 2000
As a long-time avid reader, I have read many books but this is the first time I have felt compelled to comment. Ms. Ellis' book is totally captivating. Her main character, Naomi Ash, is so likeable that even though you know from the beginning "whodunit" you keep hoping that the "why" she did it will still enable her to live happily ever after. But as with real life, there isn't always a happily-ever-after for everyone...not during life; maybe not After Life. Ms. Ellis created a setting so picturesque that it made me want to find "Trainline", NY. Surprisingly, I found she did not draw the town from imagination, but from memory. It exists, still, in 2000 and is as amazing as she describes. The town in the novel and the town in Western NY are both places that once visited will never be forgotten.
45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on August 29, 2000
This book is about a woman, Naomi Ash, who happened to start life in New Orleans, but her mother, a spiritualist, moves them up to Train Line, NY, a home to a community of spiritualists. And ten years ago, Naomi killed her boyfriend. The day before Labor Day, a construction crew found him.
I ordered this book after I read a review of it in the local paper that included the first line of the book, "First I had to get his body into the boat." I thought, "That's it- I've gotta get this book." I'm not a big mystery reader kinda person, but this was obviously a psychological mystery- Whose body? Why a boat? Did YOU kill him? How'd he die? You slowly learn all the answers to those questions, with the "WHY did he die?" question being answered last. I can't really recall ever reading a book with this approach and it very much intrigued me.
The title "After Life" is really great- Naomi can truly (or maybe truly- she doesn't ever seem to be totally confident) see the spirits of those who have passed on, and even the spirit belonging to the body headed to the boat eventually comes to her. She is dealing with Life After death and not just any death- the death of her boyfriend, a death that we suspect she is responsible for, and she is coping with the responsibility and fear that is associated with the potential of his being discovered (and then, maybe, HER being discovered for his death) and it is a very interesting struggle.
Ellis' ways of describing the world around you is also unique- The mother of the main character Naomi says, "Two people never love each other at the same time. One loves, and the other is in love with being loved. The fun is in guessing which one's you." Or another example- Naomi's first experience with snow, described as follows: "The air smelled different, like water in a tin bucket, and crows flapped in circles over our heads. When I spoke, my voice fell straight out of my mouth, completely swallowed up by snow."
The community of spiritualists is unique, but to me they just seemed like any small town with their own culture and rhythms- only instead of being poultry farmers (like my hometown), they happen to speak to the dead. This is not a criticism- I liked the fact that these people were so real and not romanticized and so matter-of-fact.
The reason for the death at first was (to me) a little disappointing- I thought, "that's IT? " However, the more I think about it, the more I get WHY that's what HAD to happen, and frankly, it just makes Naomi more and more realistic and understandable, and the more of a message there is in the book- again, particularly with regard to the title. You keep seeing how something like that COULD happen.
This is a good book, but it is not a beach book- you will get into it and really think about what you are reading(although I guess you could fly through it, but I think you'd maybe miss the thoughts that it provokes). If you want to read a book to vege out to and be brainless, this ain't it. I definitely recommend this book for it's unique approach to language and to a mystery plot.
29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
According to the somewhat effusive introduction by Nancy Pearl, After Life was first published in 2000. The novel takes place in the fictional small town of Train Line, New York - patterned after the real-life Lily Dale, a town dedicated to the spiritual world and populated by mediums. Naomi Ash has grown up with a medium, and is one herself, although she often feels like a fraud.
After Life is by turns a character study, love story, and sort-of mystery. I found it to be very well-written, but the plot isn't very compelling. Not much happens in Train Line, and Naomi isn't the most interesting of heroines (it isn't easy to make a poorly socialized misfit into a compelling character, although I've seen it done quite well elsewhere). The solution of the mystery (and the situation that opens the novel) is a letdown. Ms. Pearl talks about the relationship between Naomi and her mother Galina as being an important part of the book, but I found Naomi's connection to the child she babysits, Vivian, more interesting. Some of the scenes of seances and readings by the mediums are very good, and Naomi's relationship with her boyfriend Peter is well depicted and believable.
This is the kind of book I wanted to like a lot more than I actually liked. For me, the author is a better descriptive writer than she is a storyteller, which isn't uncommon. I would recommend the book as an example of a fine stylist, and to those with an interest in spiritualism.
On a side note - if you find yourself interested in Lily Dale after reading this book, check out the excellent documentary about it that aired on HBO last year.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on April 3, 2004
I just love this book. It's so darn real that it sticks with you (I read it when it first came out and I still think about Naomi.) What a brilliant character and what wonderful atmosphere. I won't tell you the plot, because it's been told by others already, but this is story telling at its best.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on November 27, 2000
A writer of this caliber should certainly be celebrated. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and wholeheartedly agree with the great reviews it's received. So much nonsense is made of someone's "first novel" as if a writer is a toddler just learning how to walk when they manage to get a book in print. This book is as carefully crafted and well-written as many experienced authors could hope to write.
People will compare Ellis with Stephen King because of her subject matter here-which will cull "litrary" types before they even pick it up, of course. Many people overlook the fact that King at his best is masterful at story tension and portraying American life, and I think Ellis shares similar gifts.
Ellis' great strength lies in her ability to write naturally about strange situations and people...and her plot is unique and riveting as well. Her descriptions of emotions are spot-on, and the sensual descriptions in the book are clear and wonderfully perceptive--they never failed to amaze me. One reviewer commented here that they were disappointed that the murder in the book occurred in such a mundane way. I think every now and then those of us who've read a lot of books and seen a lot of movies are extraordinarily delighted when we stumble on an artist who bucks the system and has the courage to write about something like a murder without applying all sorts of cultural cliches to it. As the main character comments at one point, "The worst thing in the world can happen, but the next day the sun will come up. And you will eat your toast. And you will drink your tea." The real story in this novel is not the murder--it's what happens to Naomi as she tries to keep such a huge secret in a colony of psychics (one of whom is her own mother!) at a time in her life when she's struggling with her own independence and self-worth.
This novel is not a typical "murder mystery" or horror novel or a book about psychics...it's a true original. Ellis is a skilled author and I'm really looking forward to reading more of her invigorating work.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on July 23, 2000
Ellis' book transcends categories. Yes it has a setting in world of spiritualism, but it is also set in a villiage of spiritualists with their communal institutions (odd to compare Shaker villiage w/spiritualism, but that's the closest I can get). It has "psychological" elements, but the scope looks at what it means to be human from a unique perspective, one that I've not encountered in any other book. Control of language, tone, voice is wonderful. This is fresh, intriguing, effective, my candidate for the best read of the summer regardless of genre.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on August 28, 2012
Have to agree with the other one star ratings. Totally interesting concept, I read the first chapter in total suspense, and the next few completely absorbed hearing about Naomi's childhood. I figured this town with all it's mediums and psychics would be even more engrossing, meanwhile nothing exciting happens in this cool town full of odd people, which seems like a strange waste of an opportunity to develop unique characters into the plot. Basically nothing important or interesting happens with the actual story of this woman and this dead man until the absolute very end. The whole entire story, you're waiting to understand Naomi's relationship with Peter, really get to know them and feel something, anything at all, about the tragedy that occurs. Instead, Naomi tells you about her jobs and all the people who don't invite her to things. There's no sense that she's slowly deteriorating because of the telltale heart situation she has going on. She's equally cold and detached from everyone from beginning to end, with the exception of her grandparents in the very first bit where she's a child. So when she has her big emotional moments, you can't feel anything for her -- that she's right, wrong, nothing to attach to her as a reader. And then scrunched into the very end is a perfectly useless summary of her and Peter and how it all happened, told in little snippets of their time together that don't help you to understand them at all. Can't recommend this one.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
This starts with a murder, then describes the years of guilt which follow for Naomi Ash.
Naomi's Trance Medium mother takes them out of New Orleans quickly, when her use of theatre to enhance the seance experience for her clients becomes too much of a liability.
They make their home in Train Line, NY (based on Lily Dale, NY) a very small community of old time Mediums and New Age Psychics. This is where Naomi spends her formative years in the small town, populated with widely differing and gifted, colourful characters.
The plot is extremely slow (although the ending is rushed) and salvaged only by the interactions of the vivid characters without whom, truthfully, I'd have stopped reading.
It's a book that explores inner fears, consequences, emotions and how they can be changed over time by ones memory of events. Lies that become truths, with each retelling of events and the motivations behind them.
I don't think it lived up to the glowing introduction by Nancy Pearl, at least not for me.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2000
I hardly know what to say. The story is so captivating that I was staying up late, flipping through the pages, but Ellis' storytelling is so beautiful and restrained that it never pushes too hard to thrill us. Absolutely surefooted writing. An astounding accomplishment--surely she must be older than she seems in her author's photo.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
I am never sure what to say about a book I have read that I don't particularly care for. Someone else might love it and I feel that anyone willing to put their time in and create a work of fiction has a gold star in my book. This book is nicely written but it is slow paced and makes it hard for me to want to continue reading it. I don't find any of the characters particularly deep or interesting. Being the daughter to a medium sounds quite fun or exciting but with "After Life" I found neither. There isn't really any high's or low's except for wondering how Peter died and it seems to take forever to find out. At the end of the book, I was still wondering exactly why it was "brought back to life" by Book Lust Rediscoveries. I see no reason fro the reader not to try it, but forewarned is forearmed. Reading a slow paced , gentle book might be right up you alley so to speak. If so, this is a good book for you.