After Life was a delight to read from beginning to end. The novel opens with the compelling line: “First I had to get his body into the boat.” The narrator is Naomi Ash, a woman in her early 30s who lives in Train Line, a whole town owned by The Church of Spiritualist Studies in Upstate New York.
My first impression of the town was of clutter. Cars were parked nearly on the front steps, cats jumped from porch roofs and windowsills, hanging plants and wind chimes and mobiles dangled by every door. Winnie Sandox – said one painted wooden sign – Reader. And another: Mrs. Lawrence, Medium, is out. I couldn’t believe it: a town made just for us.
It really is a town for Naomi and her mother, Madame Galina, who is a medium.
After Ellis is Naomi’s story. It’s the story of her relationship with her mother, the story of her relationship with the quirky little town and its odd assortment of characters and her relationship with Peter.
It is also about Naomi’s relationship with the dead. Although she grew up helping her mother augment her readings with sounds and voices, Naomi doesn’t really believe in any of it or as she says: “I sort of believed. I pretended to. I enjoyed the attention I got when I worked message services and sat for seances , and sometimes I felt the thrill of connection, but part of me held back.”
When Naomi hears her first voice, everything changes.
After Life is a wonderful novel. Naomi is a terrific character: flawed and odd and vulnerable. The novel’s mystery – who is this ‘body’ she has to get in the boat and why – propels the story along at a thriller-like clip, but ultimately After Life is really about a woman trying to make her way in the world, which just happens to include a few ghosts.