While the premise requires large blocks of exposition, this tale ultimately offers an exuberant take on the afterlife.



A novel details one woman’s interactions with the dearly departed.

When Claire Anderson returns home from a canceled vacation, she is in for quite a surprise. Napoleon Bonaparte is sitting in her living room watching CNN. Soon Claire finds that the legendary leader is not the only unexpected guest: her kitchen contains Janis Joplin and Count Dracula. While an ordinary person would find such a scene deeply troubling, Claire is anxious but not completely flustered. She is a former afterlife coach and has seen this type of thing before. The details of this occupation are complex (and require a lengthy explanation) but it has essentially been Claire’s job to help troubled souls sort out issues from their lives and guide them to suitable places after they die. The catch is that Claire is retired from her vocation and she certainly did not anticipate such peculiar visitors. Will she be able to help these three disparate and needy individuals? After all, she is still dealing with the recent death of her husband; she has two teenage sons to worry about; and her promiscuous friend Karen Palmer has just become pregnant. The idea that such coaches exist makes for a unique, playful plot focusing on the possibility of life after death. Wouldn’t it be comforting (or perhaps annoying) to know that you may be able to work through problems you dealt with in life even after you died? The setup for Claire’s mission is inherently wacky and what sort of silliness a modern Joplin (who appears as a middle-aged Indian woman to non-coaches) will flaunt remains in flux (although the reader can assume, not incorrectly, that the rock star will still like alcohol). Certain circumstances can reach a little too far to be comedic, such as elderly people demanding affordable condoms at the behest of Joplin and Napoleon. But Paul’s (Snoop, 2013) story is at its best when indulging in the zany. Once the reader is onboard with the rules of Claire’s former position, there is no telling when all the kookiness will end and the deceased will recede to the pages of history.

While the premise requires large blocks of exposition, this tale ultimately offers an exuberant take on the afterlife.

Pub Date: May 29, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5471-6674-9

Page Count: 330

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2017

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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