"Life After Life" may be your life
Elizabeth Newman, McKnight's Senior Editor
Occasionally you throw some thoughts out into the universe, and the universe answers.
I suspect author Jill McCorkle had been hard at work on “Life After Life,” her new novel focused around a long-term care facility, long before I wrote a column bemoaning the lack of LTC settings in modern fiction. (This Life After Life, incidentally, is not to be confused with the new Kate Atkinson book, also called Life After Life. )
McCorkle's work of literary fiction is centered around the residents at Pine Haven Estates, a “retirement” facility in North Carolina.
It's probably closest, in terms of a sense of place, to a CCRC, which means you will have to set aside a little of your disbelief as it relates to skilled nursing, memory care, assisted living and hospice and who may require what kinds of assistance. You'll also have to put aside the lack of presence of tertiary staff members at the facility, as the primary staff characters are a hospice volunteer and a troubled single mother who does the hair and nails of Pine Haven residents. You might also have more trouble than the average reader buying a resident who has faked his dementia in order to move into Pine Haven and free his son of guilt, or whether school teachers could afford to live in as nice a place as Pine Haven.
So putting those caveats aside, what you will love is how the residents' lives are reflected, both in their chapters where they talk about the past and also in the journal of Joanna Lamb, the hospice volunteer. You will recognize how some find love in their twilight years, and how some are slipping away. You will also recognize the small town where Pine Haven sits, as it is a place where many of the residents have spent their lives.
The primary reason to recommend "Life After Life" is precisely because of the dearth of fictional universes involving long-term care. In order for people to understand your residents and what you do, they must be able to empathize with characters whose lives revolve around Pine Haven. Not everyone will have a loved one who goes into a nursing home or be able to do a site visit. But they can read.
So pick it up. Even if you don't like all of the characters — and you won't — and even if you hate the ending — which I did. It's a positive step for long-term caregivers to be able to be portrayed vividly within fictional walls.