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The Sweet Hereafter [Kindle Edition]

Russell Banks
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (168 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $14.99
Kindle Price: $6.99
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Book Description

In The Sweet Hereafter, Russell Banks tells a story that begins with a school bus accident. Using four different narrators, Banks creates a small-town morality play that addresses one of life's most agonizing questions: when the worst thing happens, who do you blame?

Editorial Reviews Review

Atom Egoyan's Oscar-nominated The Sweet Hereafter is a good movie, remarkably faithful to the spirit of Russell Banks's novel of the same name, but Banks's book is twice as good. With the cool logic of accreting snowflakes, his prose builds a world--a small U.S. town near Canada--and peoples it with four vivid, sensitive souls linked by a school-bus tragedy: the bus driver; the widowed Vietnam vet who was driving behind the bus, waving at his kids, when it went off the road; the perpetually peeved negligence lawyer who tries to shape the victims' heartaches into a winning case; and the beauty-queen cheerleader crippled by the crash, whose testimony will determine everyone's fate.

We experience the story from inside the heads of the four characters in turn--each knowing things the others don't, each misunderstanding the facts in his or her own way. The method resembles Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury and Gilbert Sorrentino's stunning Aberration of Starlight, but Banks's achievement is most comparable to John Updike's tales of ordinary small-towners preternaturally gifted with slangy eloquence, psychological insights, and alertness to life's tiniest details.

Egoyan's film is haunting but vague--it leaves viewers in the dark regarding several critical plot points. Banks's book is more haunting still, and precise, making every revelation count, with a finale far superior to that of the film. It's also wittier than the too-sober flick: the lawyer dismisses the dome-dwelling hippie parents of one of the crash victims as being "lost in their Zen Little Indians fantasy," which casts a sharp light on them and him, too. He's lost in his calculations of how each parent will fit into the legal system, and the ways in which he fits into the tragedy are lost on him. If only he and the Vietnam-vet dad could read each other's account of their tense first encounter, both of them might get what the other is missing.

Banks's wit is pitiless--it's painful when we discover that the bus driver, who prides herself on interpreting for her stroke-impaired husband, is translating his wise but garbled observations all wrong. The crash turns out not to be the ultimate tragedy: in the cold northern light of its aftermath, we discover that we're all in this alone.

From Publishers Weekly

With resonating effect, Banks ( Continental Drift ; Affliction ) tackles the provocative subject of a fatal accident involving children, and its effect on a small community. On a frigid, snowy morning in the Adirondacks, veteran school bus driver Dolores Driscoll goes off the road, carrying 14 children to their deaths. Dolores survives; hers is the first and the last narrative voice here. Plainspoken and pragmatic, Dolores and her crippled husband have been longtime residents of the close-knit, economically depressed town of Sam Dents, but the accident makes her an outcast. The flat, almost uninflected voice of Vietnam vet and recent widower Billy Ansel, who witnessed the accident, reflects the numbness he now seeks: both his children died in the crash. Though Banks makes too much of Billy's "noble" character, he effectively portrays the man's refuge in drink and his downhill slide. When he introduces the obsessive, enraged voice of New York negligence lawyer Mitchell Stephens, who hopes to manipulate the bereaved into bringing suit against anyone he can find to blame, Banks jolts the narrative into high gear, and uses Stephens's contempt for the grieving parents--their "sagging porches and rusting pickup trucks"--to render a clear sociological portrait of the community. Beautiful teenager Nicholesp ok? Burnell, crippled as a result of her injuries, takes revenge in her own way, propelling the novel to a moving denouement. Banks handles his dark theme with judicious restraint, empathy and compassion; the result is that this book is less downbeat than his previous works--and more powerful. 30,000 first printing; $45,000 ad/promo.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 612 KB
  • Print Length: 274 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (September 27, 2011)
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005O07946
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #84,091 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book has an issue for everyone-a must read!! October 19, 1998
By A Customer
The Sweet Hereafter is a compelling novel of a small town in America that has to overcome a devasating tragedy.
The novel is written from the perspective of four completely different narrators which is what makes the story so interesting. The way Russel Banks portrays each character can make even the most insensitive reader identify with them. The language he uses can make you almost hear the character speaking and makes them seem more realistic. A reader from any cultural background can read this book and get the feeling of a small town in America and sympathize with the characters in it. The novel is written so well that every point of view can be clearly seen even when the characters are expressing some of their negative attributes.
The way the people deal with the accident is what is so compelling because their lives can be altered in a positive or very negative way depending on how they deal with the influx of big city lawyers and media.This novel gives you an in depth look at how ordinary people deal with pain and loss. We see how certain relationships deteriorate and others develop after the tragedy. The way they see each other and the way the reader sees the characters will change drastically from beginning to end.
There are themes in this novel for everyone from secret affairs, loss of loved ones, alcoholism, selfishness, divorce and the need to blame others are just a few. Anyone can get involved in this book and will most probably see some aspects of their own lives in it.
The outcome of the novel was pleasantly surprising but it is inevitable to have a slight feeling of sadness for some of the characters. It is very realistic but not at all dull, everyone has to read this book!
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79 of 96 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Movie Versus Book November 20, 1999
I know this space is usually reserved strictly for a review of the book, but since Amazon's review of "The Sweet Hereafter" makes many references to the clear superiority of the novel over the film, I feel obliged to briefly respond. And to passionately disagree.

The movie is not merely good; it is an outright masterpiece.

Banks' novel is strong and insightful on so many different levels, and I would have thought, by the very nature of its structure, that it would have been virtually impossible to bring to the screen. But Atom Egoyan has been able to write and film one of the most intensely intelligent screen adaptations I have ever seen. And Amazon's review about it completely misses the bus.

Banks brings to life his remote and icy small town clearly and realistically, and there is not a false note in his portrait of his characters or the isolated world they inhabit. Although we hear four different narrators throughout the story, the book always seems to be viewing its devastated people in Sam Dent from high above, as if they are under a microscope in their struggles to survive the worst that life offers.

Whereas Banks uses literary skills to reflect on his larger themes, Egoyan uses the breathtaking skill of his filmmaking to come up with a comparable work. "The Sweet Hereafter" is one of the great films of the '90s; like the book, it is not about death but about surviving the incomprehensible death of those closest to you.

Egoyan manipulates time in his film -- not as a gimmick but for similar purposes that Banks chooses various narrators to see some of the same events from different perspectives.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intensely moving February 11, 2002
I was perusing the reviews of this book earlier, and I have to agree that this book is one of Russell Banks' most haunting, despondent, and beautiful pieces of prose. The Sweet Hereafter chronicles the story of four individuals who are struggling with the aftermath of a horrific school bus accident, resulting in the deaths of many schoolchildren riding that morning. The book uses four different narrators; there is Delores, the once tough but eternally optimistic driver who now is consumed by guilt. Another voice is Billy Ansel, the ruggedly handsome widower who witnesses the accident from his truck. With the death of his twin son and daughter, Ansel becomes grief-stricken and shuts out any possibility of redemption, offerd in the form of a personal injury lawyer, who placed blame on the town and offers promise of financial reparitions. The lawyer is Mitchell Stephens, who also is reeling from the "death" of a child; his daughter has disappeared into a lifestyle of drugs and detox centers. The fourth and perhaps most intriguing voice is Nicole Burnell, a former cheerleader now paralyzed by the accident. She is a crucial witness for Stephens, and her surprising actions reveal ambiguous motives. I can't really reveal too much more about her, but she is the most interesting character in the book, in part because it is never clear why she does what she does. The book also has a heatwrenching epilogue, demonstating that, in a story like this, there can be no neat sense of closure. Rather, the devastation of survival plagues and haunts each member of the community, and time does not heal suffering, but rather prolongs it.
Another reviewwer commented that the book was light on dialogue. Indeed, it is.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A must read from one of America's best writers
Published 6 days ago by npa
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Good book
Published 9 days ago by Necati Acikgoz
3.0 out of 5 stars This is a good story. It's good because the story is delicately ...
This is a good story. It's good because the story is delicately told through the perspectives of simple, ordinary people. Read more
Published 9 days ago by Karen
5.0 out of 5 stars ... believe it took me this long to read this wonderful book. Written...
I can't believe it took me this long to read this wonderful book. Written in plain, unadorned prose, the result is sad, gripping, thoughtful, beautiful. Read more
Published 1 month ago by MJ Guthrie
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Good book club book, evokes a lively dscussion.
Published 1 month ago by D. Tirado
5.0 out of 5 stars Russell Banks rocks.
I read this book after I had read his recent one : A Permanent Member of the Family. The new one is a collection of short stories, all very absorbing. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Jag G.
3.0 out of 5 stars slightly dissatisfying read
A story with rich character development through first-person telling of their lives after a terrible accident. Read more
Published 6 months ago by cindy armijo
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
I really didn't enjoy this book
Published 6 months ago by Madeline Binder
5.0 out of 5 stars wrapped it all up
I hate to admit it, but I watched the film long before I read the book. The film, while beautiful and good in its own way, was a little disjointed and confusing to me. Read more
Published 7 months ago by M's Angel
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating book. Shorter than most Russell Banks books, ...
Fascinating book. Shorter than most Russell Banks books, but the message is clear at the end that none of us is totally innocent!
Published 7 months ago by Bonita Bryant
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More About the Author

Russell Banks is the author of sixteen works of fiction, many of which depict seismic events in US history, such as the fictionalized journey of John Brown in Cloudsplitter. His work has been translated into twenty languages and has received numerous international prizes, and two of his novels-The Sweet Hereafter and Affliction-have been made into award-winning films. His forthcoming novel, The Reserve, will be published in early 2008. President of the International Parliament of Writers and former New York State Author, Banks lives in upstate New York.

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