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The Afterlife: A Memoir Hardcover – May 30, 2006

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (May 30, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374299617
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374299613
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #132,210 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Antrim's three novels are acclaimed for their streaming surrealism, analytical intensity, and dark comedy. In this elegiac memoir, he wrestles with anger, remorse, sorrow, and wonderment as he tells the sad, puzzling story of his late mother's derailed life. Most concerned with the inner realm, Antrim maps his own emotions at crucial junctures and attempts to fathom his mother's "operatically suicidal" alcoholism, his father's detachment, and the eccentricities of a rogue uncle. Ravaged by addiction and estrangement, Antrim's extended family lived in Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina, and his descriptions of how the landscapes of the South have changed over the past 40 years deepen his tales of familial strife. 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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By M. JEFFREY MCMAHON TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Consisting of seven eloquent autobiographical essays, many featured in The New Yorker, The Afterlife is Antrim's stunning chronicle of his tormented relationship with his mother, a pseudo mystic, parnanoid, often manic alcoholic who believed that she and her son, Donald, were creative avatars in a world of philistines. Antrim describes how inextricably connected he is to his mother even in her death and my favorite episode is how after his mother dies he embarks on a chimerical quest for the Ultimate Bed. He obsesses over "coil counts," pillow tops, top-of-the-line beds that are called "sleep systems." Clearly, the bed becomes a metaphor for his contradictory relationship with his mother. The bed becomes the Womb, the Mother, the Crypt, Death, a New Life. The quest enlivens him but his eventual acquisition of The Bed (costing as much as a small car) results in despair. His anguish reminds me of a Kierkegaard proverb: "Fulfillment is in the wish."

What's amazing about this memoir, is if you were to tell someone that the book focuses on a man's guilt and torment for not being "supportive enough" as his mother faces death, you would have a tough sell. But the writing style, the irony, the layers of absurdity, and the scintillating anecdotage create surprising humor.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Zen Poet on July 12, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book, never having read anything by Antrim before, in an effort to understand my son's perspective on our relationship. I found it searing and exceptionally well written. The first few chapters seem so odd and quirky to me but even when it gets into more conventional memoir stuff it is completely without self pity or rancour.

As a recovering alcoholic, his description of his mother's descent into the pit of the disease was better than a meeting.

Very intelligent.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on July 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Antrim writes the best sentences of any writer now working: balanced, complex, digressive, surprising, dynamic, seemingly self-supporting (that is, existing for their own beauty and born of a unique inspiration that you too would follow if you had his gift for expression), but, as you find when you read on, what you thought were grace notes or jokes or just unforgettable and sheer oddball observations are in fact keenly plotted essentials subtly woven into the plot of the book. The style can sound with grand resonance--his prose is haunted by rhythms of great prose stylists like Thomas de Quincey and writers like Henry Green with an ear for both casual and telling dialogue--but his eye is contemporary and in the darkest of family scenarios both deeply felt and comic. With his great powers of observation he can move through landscapes you couldn't have seen--Florida coastal towns in the seventies, Black Mountain North Carolina in the final years of the past century--and see it so keenly that you can be tricked into thinking you grew up there too: this too is a function of his style, which can arrest your attention at key moments, the way Scorsese can move the camera so you never forget the shot.

The material here is of the darkest you can venture through--the broken legacy of artisty and alcoholism--and Antrim doesn't shy from any of its most painful moments. But for all that, the book is achingly light and filled with love however undeceived --silk out of pain. Read this book. It's one of the few that will speak to the ages of our age.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy Garber on December 19, 2009
Format: Paperback
A charming and peculiar biography about a writer, his alcoholic and artistic mother, and the rest of the family that formed around them. Antrim uses a kind of stream-of-consciousness style much like our own memory works: he flits from remembering his mother's dying to buying an expensive queen-size bed, from his uncle's station wagon stuffed with fishing lures and Playboys to the nature of addiction and recovery. Wonderful and moving writing - experimental without being off-putting, heartfelt while still being intelligent.
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Format: Hardcover
I thought, at first, that "The Afterlife" would be one of those memoirs of a dysfunctional childhood that, while dark and deeply disturbing, also provided humorous moments...ala "Running With Scissors". (I think, for some reason, that this impression came from the cover photo of the author's mother...smiling and looking down at the title of the book. But wait, isn't there some adage about a book and its cover...?)

"The Afterlife" dances right up to the humor line but never crosses. This section about his quest for a bed comes the closest:

"I saw the crated bed by the door. I saw the sunlight coming through the windows. I saw myself standing there seeing these things. I was a man whose need for love and sympathy had led him to telephone a Swedish executive in the middle of the morning. Perhaps, at some point, the story of my mother and the bed becomes the story of my mother and father, the story that remains to be told, the story, you could say, of the queen versus the king.

The bed went away. I let it go. R was right. I could get another bed later. I stood in my empty room. In place of the bed was - shame? In place of the bed was a question - a question that is at once too simple and too complicated to answer."

But in every memory, there is too much genuine pain, confusion and love behind the author's words to find these stories funny. The raw emotion, the way Antrim is still questioning every emotion or thought he has/had about his mother, comes through every line, almost every word. His life is still tied up in hers, and in the end of her life. He is still unable to clearly define their relationship. Were they mother and son, or was theirs a more Oedipal relationship, or were they similar artistic souls...or?
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