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After Life (Nancy Pearl's Book Lust Rediscoveries) Paperback – June 5, 2012

3.7 out of 5 stars 165 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

After Life begins with Naomi Ash dragging her boyfriend's dead body down the stairs. Unpleasant, surely, but not, in a culture as numb to violence as ours, especially shocking. The nasty surprise is that we feel every ounce of skinny Peter Morton's weight, that we worry along with Naomi whether the hole she digs to bury him is big enough: "Once when I was a child I tried burying a dead cat in a hole not big enough for it, and I still cannot forget pushing down on it to make it fit, pressing its head with my trowel. Its ears filled horribly with dirt." That last detail is our signal that we have entered a world every bit as visceral as our own, and possibly every bit as mad. Despite the corpse that lies hidden for the first part of the book, After Life is not a whodunit, not even a "whydunit," but some other beast entirely: a tense exploration of the ties between faith, will, and fakery--and between this world and the next.

For Naomi Ash is a medium, and the daughter of a medium, who lives in a town founded and populated entirely by other mediums. From the beginning, she's been privy to all the tricks of her trade. Growing up in New Orleans, she helped her spiritualist mother by faking spirit voices through fans and, in one case, draping herself in a lace tablecloth as the ghost of a dead child. But what begins in fraud, she tells us, has ended "in something at least close to truthfulness":

I, for one, couldn't always disentangle the real from the fraudulent, the truth from its trappings. Sometimes it seemed as if my mother's fakery was just a more interesting and beautiful version of what was real. Sometimes it seemed that the truth needed the lies, as if there wouldn't be any truth without them. At any rate, whatever my mother was doing, it was a rare and powerful thing, perhaps even a form of magic. It enthralled me.
After their move to Train Line, New York, a fairy tale Victorian village run slightly to seed, Naomi and her mother settle into working Psychic Faires and message services. Then Naomi meets Peter Morton, a graduate student on vacation, and falls in love; 10 years later, she's still paying the price.

First-time novelist Ellis produces lovely prose: "A lonely life is a crime without witnesses, it is a movie playing in a locked theater; can you ever really be sure what happens in it? Can you be sure that it happens at all?" At the same time, this author's writing can be willfully unglamorous: her characters have dirty hair and clothes with stains on them, and their world smells like ours, like fried things and wet earth and dirty lake water. In its mix of the mundane and the magical, After Life gets at some fundamental truths about the dead and those they leave behind. You don't have to believe in the spirit world to understand Naomi's final insight as a medium--or to know just how much it hurts: "He would never be completely gone, but he would never, ever be with me." --Greta Kline --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The opening line of Ellis's debut novel, a psychological thriller, engages the reader like tossing a pork chop to a hungry dog: "First, I had to get his body into the boat." The intrigue is anchored and the suspense heightened by recurring themes of mysticism and the supernatural, centered on a complex, finely drawn mother and daughter relationship. Naomi Ash and her mother, Patsy (aka Madame Galina Ash), flee their hometown of New Orleans after Patsy's s éances cause some trouble with the police. They move to Train Line, N.Y., home to America's largest community of mediums and spiritualists, where Patsy hosts a radio show, The Mother Galina Psychic Hour. Patsy's psychic powers are only partly phony, and both she and Naomi give accurate psychic readings to clients. But while the mother often fakes it, Naomi is honestly searching for her true spiritual gifts, trying to determine whether she really has the power to contact the dead. The story alternates between present and past, revealing how Naomi met and fell in love with a graduate student from Oregon, Peter Morton. Details of his death come to light slowly as, 10 years later, in the present, his bones have been found. A police investigation closes in on Naomi, who has done all the wrong things, keeping Peter's personal effects, for instance. The story ends with a spooky calm rather than a bang, Ellis choosing an evocative, poetic and thoughtful denouement to an action-packed showdown. An excellent storyteller, this new author exhibits a gift for subtlety and suggestive understatement even when dealing with such potentially gaudy themes as clairvoyance, necromancy and murder. 5-city author tour. (July)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Nancy Pearl's Book Lust Rediscoveries
  • Paperback: 310 pages
  • Publisher: AmazonEncore; Reprint edition (June 5, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1612182984
  • ISBN-13: 978-1612182988
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (165 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,477,352 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on August 5, 2000
Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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By A Customer on April 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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!
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