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THE AFTERLIFE by Donald Antrim Kirkus Star


A Memoir

by Donald Antrim

Pub Date: June 1st, 2006
ISBN: 0-374-29961-7
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

An elegant memoir about the author’s turbulent relationship with his erratic, irascible, alcoholic and otherwise maddening artist-mother—who could sometimes be nurturing, even smothering.

Novelist Antrim (The Verificationist, 2000, etc.) begins and ends with allusions to his mother’s death from lung cancer in 2000; along the way, Antrim reminds us of her illness and of his own responses to it, including a bizarre obsession with buying a new bed after his mother died. He could not settle on a brand or style, he harassed mattress mavens, he imagined that his mother was somehow inside the bed, reaching out to him. Antrim also chronicles the weird behavior of Mom’s laconic boyfriend, who believed he’d found a lost painting by Leonardo (he hadn’t) and a harrowing encounter with eccentric, drunken Uncle Eldridge, who seemed on the verge of raping the author, a teen at the time. He includes revealing stories as well about his father—twice married to his mother—some grandparents, some girlfriends and his own emergence as a reader. (As a boy, he favored Tolkien, Wells and Conan Doyle.) He describes a moment of sexual awakening at age 12, when he lay naked all night with an 11-year-old girl who was a family friend, and he paints a dazzling portrait of a white kimono his mother designed, a garment whose metaphorical significance Antrim explores at length. At the heart of all lies the mother, a woman who mystifies and enrages the author even as she approaches death.

A luminous meditation on the past, the enigmas of family and the tangled mystery of love.