A richly creative meditation on love, mortality, and the possibility of what lies beyond.


Rauch’s fantastical novel tracks the afterlife of a widowed atheist.

Walter Klein is diagnosed with cancer and makes a principled decision to refuse treatment, essentially issuing himself an imminent death sentence. His wife, Susan, the love of his life, is dead, and with her went his attachment to this world. Walter continues on with his quotidian affairs—he plays in a jazz band, goes to work, and starts to spend time platonically with a woman, Leslie, whose appearance reminds him of Susan. When some repressed rage suddenly surfaces, he goes on a murderous rampage, killing Leslie and raping her, murdering two of his band mates and then his noisy neighbors. Walter wakes, discovering that he died in his sleep. Now he’s to be escorted in the afterlife by a guide named Vincent until the moment he is finally judged. Walter’s paroxysm of violence was part of a cleansing process, a kind of cathartic prelude to his judgment and did not occur in the physical world, but on some spiritual plane. Once evaluated, his judges will determine whether he is permitted to retain his “Right of Choice,” his prerogative to select either permanent nothingness or a sustained fantasy crafted specifically for him. Debut novelist Rauch slowly unfurls the moral cataclysm of Walter’s young life—a violent confrontation with his mother’s abusive boyfriend, an event that engendered an emotional rift between the two. Rauch imaginatively conjures an entire underworld, not only characterized by a different metaphysical reality, but a different set of moral and juridical rules. Rapists are raped as punishment for their past transgressions, and a pedophile who exercised restraint is given guilt-free orgies with children. Walter is the fulcrum of the plot though, a profoundly complex man—loving but also brimming with volatile anger, a simple person who lived a small, precious life but is also capable of real emotional and philosophical depth. The judicial aspect of the novel is fascinating and provocative—a man who kills 157 people is taken to task not for the murders themselves—none of them were innocents—but for the delight he took in the killing. The theological cosmology that emerges—instead of the historical monotheistic god, a being or beings, simply referred to as “The Truth,” preside over all—is both a little opaque and overwrought. Also, there isn’t much of a supporting cast for the protagonist. Walter’s spiritual guide, Vincent, is the only other character fleshed out enough to even approach authentic personhood. The prose, though, is sharp and lively, and Rauch has a talent for the seamless integration of serious philosophical themes and bantering humor. This is an ambitious modernization of Dante’s Inferno, an homage to a literary classic that boldly stakes out its own creative and intellectual territory. Furthermore, Rauch furnishes a thoughtful reflection on the meaning of a life well lived.

A richly creative meditation on love, mortality, and the possibility of what lies beyond.

Pub Date: June 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-692-86333-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Joseph Rauch Books and Stories

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2018

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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