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Evacuation Plan: a novel from the hospice Paperback – July 19, 2007

4.7 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Tales alternately gentle, dramatic, surrealistic, that collectively affirm the beauty of being alive, even as they acknowledge that all of us face the necessity of making our own "evacuation plan." --Brad Buchholz, Austin American-Statesman

This is a fictional account of life's last journey. A screenwriter named Matt decides to volunteer at a hospice for inspiration and help with his writing. The hospice is a last haven for the living and it's chalk full of stories for those who listen. Matt takes the people he meets and changes them into colorful characters with lives of his choosing. We go back and forth between Matt's time in the hospice and his imaginary tales. The book is compassionate and like life, often absurd, sometimes funny, sad, or bittersweet, but never boring. We're human and we've all screwed up more times than any of us can count. It's about forgiveness of oneself and others and a new way of looking at death. We're all on the fast track to death and each moment is precious. Mr. O'Connell's wise words will help us remember that. Life is too short to forget. --Victoria Kennedy, Midwest Book Review

Here's a book so rich with stories of the living, so filled with people's bountiful problems, as well as incidents of wry forgiveness, one realizes over and over the circling forces of life's completeness. It's not a sad tale nor a needless feel-good account but a balanced, sometimes comic, affirmation of what is here and what we all know is waiting. Evacuation Plan is a book to ponder and to enjoy. --Carolyn Osborn, award-winning short story writer

About the Author

Joe O'Connell has met a mass murderer, prowled a crack house and spat seeds at a watermelon thump. He's a Texas native whose early career focused on small-town journalism. He earned an MFA in creative writing from Southwest Texas State University where he worked long distance with the late short story master Andre Dubus. O'Connell's stories have appeared in The G.W. Review, Other Voice, Confrontation, Lullwater Review and many other journals. His stories have taken first prize at both the Deep South Writers Conference and in the Louzelle Rose Barclay Awards. Of late, he teaches writing to graduate students at St. Edward's University and to undergraduates at Austin Community College. He turned a budding career as a movie extra --otherwise known as "scenery"--into a gig as a film industry columnist for the Dallas Morning News and The Austin Chronicle. He also has contributed to Variety and Texas Monthly.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Dalton Publishing; 1St Edition edition (July 19, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0974070386
  • ISBN-13: 978-0974070384
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.9 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,602,324 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Joe O'Connell teaches writing at Austin Community College and St. Edward's University. After receiving a journalism degree from Southwest Texas State University, he worked as a newspaper reporter and editor around Texas, concentrating on politics and winning awards for both feature writing and investigative journalism from the Texas Press Association and the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors. He returned to the school to forever be known as SWT to pursue an MFA in creative writing. While there he worked long distance with the famed short story writer Andre Dubus.

Joe's short fiction has been widely published in literary journals including The G.W. Review, Other Voices, Lullwater Review and Confrontation's special issue on Southern writing. His stories have taken first prize in both the Deep South Writers Conference and the Louzelle Rose Barclay Awards.

His novel EVACUATION PLAN is loosely inspired by time spent with the terminally ill at Hospice Austin's Christopher House and hailed by the Austin American-Statesman as "Tales alternately gentle, dramatic, surrealistic, that collectively affirm the beauty of being alive, even as they acknowledge that all of us face the necessity of making our own 'evacuation plan.' " It was the No. 1 bestseller at Austin's BookPeople, won the North Texas Book Award and was a finalist for the Violet Crown Book Award.

He is also a screenwriter who turned a budding career as a movie extra--including two days as a topless bar patron in Varsity Blues and one day as a blurry guy on the telephone in Courage Under Fire--into a gig as a film industry columnist, formerly for the Austin American-Statesman--where he also was an assistant entertainment editor and published numerous personal essays--and currently for both the Dallas Morning News and The Austin Chronicle. His articles have also appeared in Texas Monthly, Variety, Video Business and the San Antonio Express-News.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
You are in a hospice, and Rod Serling walks in and asks you to tell him a story. If you had to pick one event out of your life to tell him about, what would it be? Evacuation Plan, by Texas writer Joe M. O'Connell, is a collection of stories told to the novel's protagonist, Matt, who is a screenwriter working in a hospice so he can collect material. The occupants of the hospice -- dying residents, their family members, and the hospice staff -- are like the tattoos of Ray Bradbury's Illustrated Man, each one offering a tale that stands out in their lives. Like the loser who stares at himself in childhood pictures until the pictures come to life. Or the guy who gambled his wife in a game of Monopoly at his murderer father's Christian home for the deranged. Or how fate undid the fate of a young unwed father-to-be. These are stories of reflection, of the best day in one's life, the worst day, the turning points, and the close calls, some joyous, some sad, some bizarre. Not the stuff one would discuss on a first date or a job interview. The surreal atmosphere of the hospice, where angels might be eavesdropping, drops the guard of the storytellers, and sincerity prevails. Evacuation Plan is both entertaining and thought provoking, and it is a wonderful book.
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Format: Paperback
Does how you live your life reveal how you will deal with your death? If life is for the living and death is for the dying, then somewhere in between must be hospice.

Aspiring screenwriter Matt volunteers at a local hospice facility in search of a good story for his screenplay. What he discovers is that the stories of peoples' lives, like memories drifting in the ether, haunt the halls and rooms like the music from the violinist who plays for the residents.

While the architect Mr. Wright and his family's story is the focal point of Matt's attention, the reader also peers almost voyeuristically into the past lives of everyone he encounters. There's the guy in the hall who screwed up his life so miserably all he has left to look forward to his taking over his dying mother's house. The mortician who lost everything before he even knew what he had. The male nurse who watched his sister die from a broken heart. O'Connell weaves the characters' stories together to create an intimate mosaic that reveals how we are all connected by the mysteries of life and death.

In Matt's dream the banjo player jokes, "Know the difference between death and an electric eel? People aren't afraid to talk about electric eels." In "Evacuation Plan", death is as much a character as it is a resident at the hospice. But this book is no funereal dirge. Instead, O'Connell has employed masterful storytelling skills to compose an achingly captivating symphony from all these life stories that could very possibly change the way you view your own life - and death.
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Format: Paperback
Death is not a topic that most people like to talk about or write about. It makes us uncomfortable, but Joe M. OConnell puts that discomfort aside and brings us a book that is sometimes poignant and sometimes irreverent, but always entertaining.

Matt, a screenwriter, volunteers in a hospice so he can meet people and gather material for a story worthy of film. Will he write about old Mr. Wright, dying of cancer? Or perhaps his son. Or maybe his daughter. Then, too, there is the nurse and her story.

What Matt discovers is that everyone's life stands for something, and how well we have lived may have some bearing on how well we leave this world.

Written in a series of stories, with all the characters loosely connected through the hospice, the book is as much about the living as the dying. It is written with grace and humor, and the characters are compelling.

I was a bit surprised that the book was not focused more on the journey of death, but then I realized at the end that we are all on that journey from the moment we are born.
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Format: Paperback
Evacuation Plan by Joe O'Connell was a riveting read, but in a natural, unforced way that, very much like life itself, draws us into the suspense and wonder of everyday things and everyday people facing great struggles in courageous ways. This book is gentle, deep, and meaningful, weaving together the lives (and deaths) of many diverse characters in a merciful, but painfully honest search for answers to life, death, love, family, hope, disappointment, and watching your parents die.

It was very hard for me to put this book down. It carries us through the deepest meaning in life and most painful, most hopeful memories for a wide range of fascinating characters. Based in a hospice, this book could have easily resorted to cheap sensationalism, or whacked us upside the head with stereotypic melodrama, but instead it was respectful, honest, and tender. The characters will stay with you - you may even recognize some of them within your own life.
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Format: Paperback
Aspiring script writer Matt visits a hospice in order to gather inspiration for his great play. Spending the days getting to know the people staying there, Matt realized the hospice is full of stories, for anybody who cares enough to sit down and listen. From the lady whose sister ran off with a circus artist (or wanted to, anyway) to the old man who was just hoping to be reconciled with his children before he left this earth, Matt talks to them all, asking them what was their best experience in life, and hearing the stories they just have to get off their chest-before it's too late.

The idea behind Evacuation Plan is brilliant. Joe O'Connell works from the theory that "everybody has a story to tell," and you are left with the knowledge that this is without a doubt true. The book changes focus constantly with the chapters alternatingly being told from Matt's point of view, and then from the view of one of the people at the hospice.

The main thread running through all the stories is death and how to cope with it, but this is not a strong enough connection to get the stories linked together properly, and Evacuation Plan ends up feeling more like a book of short stories with a common theme, than like a full novel. This doesn't make the book any less worth reading, but it is always an advantage for the reader to know what to expect, in order not to be disappointed by the number of loose threads left hanging.

Though dealing with a sober subject, Joe O'Connell manages to be neither too somber nor engage in too much gallows humor. Death is faced unapologetically and straightforward-a very refreshing change from books that tend to either shy away from the subject, or wallow in it.

Armchair Interviews says: This is more a collection of well-written short stories than a novel, with the thread that connects are the stories at the hospice.
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