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The Sweet Hereafter (1997)

The Sweet Hereafter (1997)
3.23 of 5 Votes: 3
0099268809 (ISBN13: 9780099268802)
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The Sweet Hereafter (1997)
The Sweet Hereafter (1997)

About book: A remarkable and remarkably simple piece of literature that spawned a remarkable movie.Russell Banks, Russell Banks, Russell Banks. If I write his name enough it might conjure a complete sentence from my mind, as though his name alone might rub some of his magic off on me and I could explain this novel to you. Russell Banks. It's not working. I just read Affliction which a truly incredible movie was adapted from, adapted so well that it seemed to make the novel a non-event for me, yet I knew that Banks had something special, a skill, a voice that could create something wonderful from mere words on paper and being completely unsatisfied I plunged straight in to his other novel that was adapted in to an award winning movie, naturally. It could have been a mistake but I believe my decision was vindicated by just how urgently I devoured this one.Told in five parts in the first person by four of the major characters in the aftermath of the tragic crash of a school bus Banks slowly creates a multi-layered understanding of the event and the way people cope with tragedy. To tell you much more than that would be to act as a spoiler and I'd hate to ruin this for you. The four people you meet are Dolores the bus driver, Billy a bereaved parent, Mitchell the big city lawyer and Nichole a child survivor. It's loosely based on true events, a school bus did crash in Texas in the late 1980s and the townsfolk went crazy with litigation.I have seen and enjoyed the Atom Egoyan movie several times and never found it lacking in anything but in this instance the novel really does add an extra power and understanding to the film. From the opening paragraph as we meet Dolores I was hooked, the distinct voice of this chatterbox shone through loud and clear and she is the perfect set of eyes and ears to learn about the tragedy that will unfold and be retold in the following 250 pages. The distinct voice of Dolores is then added to by three more quite distinct characters and this is apparent from the opening paragraphs of each subsequent section. The most important literary trick that Banks pulls off in this novel is that at no point are you confused over which character is narrating which section AND on top of that you are led towards sympathising with each of the characters despite their conflicting emotions and intentions with a subtlety that cinema will always struggle to match.There's only one reason for the lack of full marks in this case and that was the disappointing final section, it felt like an unnecessary addition to the story and a way to moralise at the reader rather than let them take from the story what they will. I don't like being told the answer to these problems by an author and to have one attempt to do so simply highlights the conceit of the literary fiction writer.But don't let that stop you from reading this book or seeing the movie, both are splendid and worth your time.

I was not completely blown away by this, as I was by "Affliction" and "Continental Drift", but it was hardly a disappointment. At first I stayed away because of its gloomy subject matter, but it turned out to be a wonderfully written and engrossing story. Like the two novels mentioned it is a brilliant piece of American realism, with believable characters, emotions, events, and settings. This time Banks applies a different narrative strategy - he uses 4 narrators, and we are given different, but not contradictory versions of the same events, so it ends up being a coherent presentation.SPOILER ALERT: In a little town in northern New York State, a school bus driven by a liked and respected local woman skids off a road and 14 kids are killed. This event throws the town, and especially the parents of the lost kids, into a great deal of pain and confusion. The first section is told by the driver, Dolores Driscoll, who describes the accident and the regular morning that preceded it. This is followed by a chapter by Billy Ansel, a respected local man who lost 2 kids in the crash. He is a Vietnam vet who eventually slides into alcoholism. He runs the town gas station and is having an affair with another grieving parent, Risa Walker, who runs a struggling motel with her husband. The snappiest, most entertaining chapter follows: the testimony of a cynical, funny lawyer who is attempting to put together a case against the town or the state. He comes across as funny, perceptive, shrewd, and lively, and his outsider's view of the town is an asset. Then comes the most painful chapter, that of a beautiful, bright 14 year-old who was crippled in the accident. Banks manages to very convincingly convey her youthful cynicism and strength, and her perceptions of things. She is being sexually abused by her father, whom she hates. She ends up playing the book's trump card when, in an effort to get revenge on her father and put a stop to the town's bickering, she gives false testimony about the accident. Once again Banks has made vivid the voices and inner lives of a believable group of people, if not quite as powerfully as in the novels I mentioned above. NB: This was made into a fine film directed by Atom Egoyan.
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Andrew Smith
Atom Egoyan managed to make a decent movie of it too. What I liked about this one was the fact that it was a departure from the New England anti-hero trap into which Banks had been wallowing for far too long. I like all his work, but sometimes it's nice to read a book that doesn't inspire existential ennui.
Paul Bryant
Recipe for Russell Bank's Sweet HereafterIngredients required17 dead teenagers2 living teenagers 1 bus1 bus driver (female) 1 river1 roadFive large scoops of ice and snow1 small townApprox 35 parentsReporters (a handful will do)2 lawyers1 oz morality10 oz sentimentality1 box soapflakes4 boxes KleenexMethodSprinkle the ice and snow on the road. Tilt the road 25 degrees, with the edge of the road close to the edge of the river (this is called the banks). Add the teenagers and the driver to the bus and leave for 20 minutes. Set the bus at the top of the slope which by now should be fairly well covered in ice and snow. (If you have any strong wind, you can introduce that to taste). Allow the bus to roll backwards into the river. Stir. Wait for the bus and the teenagers to settle. Add the morality, the sentimentality and the soapflakes. Beat with wooden spoon for a while. Now add parents and lawyers to the mix. Wait for them to settle. This may take a while.
Although it sounds like a romance novel, this book leaves you with a sore feeling of despair as you experience the anguish, loneliness, anger, and healing of a town that loses most of its children in a horrible bus accident. The author gives us four citizens' first person accounts of, among other struggling emotions, what survivor guilt really feels like.I was drawn to reading this book after seeing the movie a few years ago. Although the movie was true to the story in action, the motives of the characters are lost and left to interpretation. Needless to say, the book is better. I found the story of the father and the lawyer to be the most realistic, humorous, and depressing. I was disappointed however by the beauty queen's far fetched decision to make a statement that changed the course of events because it seemed unlikely to lead to the poignant ending. Regardless, I liked it but wouldn't recommend it as a "must read". This book puts you in a place (and a town) you don't want to be. It is not depressing, but more of a revelation and a study of human nature, especially after sudden change. It is surprisingly a fast and insightful read and consequently I intend to explore other books by Russell Banks.
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