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Next Life Might Be Kinder Hardcover – May 13, 2014

4.2 out of 5 stars 48 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Newlyweds Sam and Elizabeth create a zone of passion, both sexual and intellectual, in their apartment in a Halifax hotel in the early 1970s. Sam is writing his second novel and, for pay, new episodes for old radio shows. Elizabeth is working on her dissertation and learning the lindy. They are erotically bedazzled, steeped in the past, and deliriously happy. Then Elizabeth is murdered. Sam moves into a cottage by the sea, besieged by memories of what led to his beloved’s violent death. Each night Elizabeth, calm and collected, appears on the beach, and they talk. Sam’s therapist struggles to dismantle this delusion. Desperate for funds, Sam sold the film rights to his and Elizabeth’s story. He now loathes the pretentious, manipulative director. While Sam struggles within a vortex of anger and sorrow, his neighbors, a designer and a librarian, offer provocative perspectives on “situational ethics” and how secrets are kept and revealed. Once again Norman (What Is Left the Daughter, 2010) portrays Nova Scotia as a mystical realm, where the dead haunt the living, and time is tidal. The inspiration for this dark, sexy, allusive, and diabolical tale is found in Norman’s memoir, I Hate to Leave this Beautiful Place (2013), further complicating the novel’s eerie investigation into the yin and yang of verisimilitude and aberration. --Donna Seaman

Review

"an opening sentence worthy of the Noir Hall of Fame...provocative...haunting...deft"—Janet Maslin, New York Times

"Engrossing...Norman pulls off a fascinating balancing act here: the literary page-turner that, when it’s done, you want to retrace"—The Seattle Times

"compelling and satisfying. Howard Norman has written a complex literary novel and a page-turner that’s impossible to put down."—Minneapolis Star Tribune

"quirky and probing...riveting...sexy"—Washington Post

"This latest novel, a strange and tragic love story told with great power and beauty, is a remarkable achievement… Shining through the confusion and madness is Norman’s masterly depiction of Sam and Elizabeth’s love affair before the murder, showing two people living modest, quiet lives who are redeemed and blessed by having found real love. VERDICT An inspiring and beautiful book; enthusiastically recommended for fans of literary fiction." —Library Journal, STARRED review

"Once again Norman (What Is Left the Daughter, 2010) portrays Nova Scotia as a mystical realm, where the dead haunt the living, and time is tidal. The inspiration for this dark, sexy, allusive, and diabolical tale is found in Norman’s memoir, I Hate to Leave this Beautiful Place (2013), further complicating the novel’s eerie investigation into the yin and yang of verisimilitude and aberration."—Booklist, STARRED review

"Sweet, elegaic...you'll be richly rewarded."—Washingtonian

"a beguiling tale"—Kirkus Reviews

"[A] somewhat far-fetched but nonetheless entertaining novel"— Publishers Weekly

"A nimbus of unknowability lights up this exploration of love, and how we live in the ambiguous context of love, always moving backward and forward, as we do dancing the Lindy.  Howard Norman has created a very real mystery, in writing a mystery about what we choose to look at as 'very real.'  It’s vivid, haunting, and – as always, with this writer – beautifully and carefully written and unique, it’s meaning both elegant and elusive. I greatly admire Howard Norman’s writing." —Ann Beattie
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (May 13, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 054771212X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547712123
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,318,813 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By SLS TOP 1000 REVIEWER on May 12, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Most couple's marriages never make it to the Big Screen. But then, most are not like that of Sam and Elizabeth.

Their love came to them fiercely and suddenly - as did her death. Her murder is not the mystery in Howard Norman's Next Life Might Be Kinder. From the first sentence we know Elizabeth will die and who killed her. And we also know immediately of her post-death seaside visitations with Sam. What we DON'T know, perhaps even after reading the last page, is whether Sam's peculiar version of grieving - which he calls "suspended disbelief" - is genuinely cathartic. Or even genuine at all.

A nifty retro atmosphere pervades the book: the narration and events occur in the early 1970s, Sam and Elizabeth live as husband and wife in a four-room suite of a hotel, Elizabeth is a scholar of noir movies and Veronica Lake hairstyles, she takes ballroom dancing lessons, her dissertation in-progress involves Victorian themes, Sam writes scripts re-creating war-era detective dramas for radio, and they volley old movie references between them.

With a remarkably light touch, Howard Norman constructs layers of heavily thematic riffs, such as drowning and shooting. Some of the bandstand scenes are lurid, almost absurd, yet retain a vivid festivity. In a literary coup, he imparts a gently comedic air to material that might otherwise be funereal. For instance, he has Sam deny his writer's block even as he takes up bird-watching and the planting of 20 Japanese crabapple trees after Lizzie's death. Jokes get told within jokes, as when another character is described as "acting like an actor in a B movie". Given Sam and Elizabeth's fondness for cinema, it is a wickedly fitting irony that their courtship and marriage is made into a movie.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Howard Norman is one of my favorite writers, and this is one of his best books. "Next Life Might Be Kinder" is layered with nuance and rich with subtext and symbolism and blessed by a soundtrack of The Boswell Sisters (thanks, Mr. Norman! They're amazing), full of poetry and birds and a ghost, the ghost of Sam Lattimore's murdered wife, his soulmate, his erotic partner, his Lindy partner, his great love and the Lattimores have a great and beautiful love.

All of Mr. Norman's works are sensuous and sensual, sad and grappling. This one takes it to new heights. Everything Mr. Norman touches upon in "Next Life Might Be Kinder" is made beautiful, or more beautiful. Throughout the novel there's breathtaking beauty in sadness, and sadness in beauty. And the cultural references provide clues to the characters and a backdrop for Mr. Norman's word paintings. There are scenes that one would swear take place in Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks." The esoteric nature of the material is enriched and grounded by these cultural references, including Hopper's painting and an obscure and intriguing work by writer Marghanita Laski.

By all means put The Boswell Sisters on from Youtube while reading this book. Do what I did fifty pages ago and order a novel by protagonist Sam Lattimore's favorite author, Brian Moore. More, more, more. The book is made of revelation, murder and lovemaking, an enigmatic psychiatrist, a ghost?, a tragic murder and one that the reader will feel surprisingly okay about, an insensitive director, a mousy librarian, fine wine, those Boswell Sisters, bouillabaisse, love, an enigmatic writer, a writer wrestling with enigma, and a chaise longue. Read it and weep.
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Format: Hardcover
"After my wife, Elizabeth Church, was murdered by the bellman Alfonse Padgett in the Essex Hotel, she did not leave me." This is the provocative opening sentence of Howard Norman's latest novel, NEXT LIFE MIGHT BE KINDER. Following his wife's recent murder, only a few months into their short marriage, the narrator, Sam Lattimore, has moved from Halifax to the small town of Port Medway, Nova Scotia. There, most nights, he walks down to the beach, where he sees his dead wife lining up books. Sometimes he talks to her, hoping to keep her coming back and to make up for the many ways he thinks he's failed her.

Primary among these is the fact that, nearly penniless upon his wife's death, Sam was convinced to sell their life story to a filmmaker who's now making a feature film based on Elizabeth's final months. Now, however, having met the pompous director and seen the liberties the movie is making with the couple's life and relationship, Sam feels deep regret over allowing their story to be told this way.

He outlines his regrets, as well as his anger at himself and at the film crew, during his weekly therapy appointments. Accounts of these conversations alternate with Sam's current life in Port Medway (where he struggles to work on a failed novel and endures periodic visits from the film director's busybody assistant) and flashbacks to his brief marriage with Elizabeth. The couple lived a seemingly idyllic newlywed existence, taking up residence in an apartment in the Essex Hotel and pursuing their shared passion for writing (and for each other).
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