☀ You can borrow and read The Afterlife: A Memoir free below. ☀
Donald Antrim*‘s writing is intelligent and elegant. The Afterlife is a relentlessly honest, often very funny examination of his close and complicated relationship with his difficult, alcoholic, and maybe crazy mother:
People are fond of saying that the truth will make you free. But what happens when the truth is not one simple, brutal thing? I could not imagine life without my mother. And it was true as well that only without her would I feel able to live. I had had enough of Louanne Antrim and was ready for her to be gone. I wanted her dead, and I knew that, in the year of her dying, I would neglect her.
I would and I did. In this, at least, I can claim I was faithful to her — to us.
closely observed objects as transcendent symbols
The book, set mostly in Florida and North Carolina, visits one by one a whole collection of family and friends, each one tenderly and brutally examined with an honest eye. Antrim’s words and style can be so quiet that the truth hits you like a hammer. He writes quite a lot about the trunk of his Uncle Eldridge’s car:
Once he’d established that everything was in order, that we had whatever we might need if, say, the world were to blow up and all life outside our car were to be catastrophically extinguished, we were off and running. Of what were our days together made? Looking back, I would say that our days were made of desire. We had structured activities, like tennis — I had not yet wrecked my shoulder with my high-toss, low-percentage, erratic yet explosive service, the theatrical serve of a flailing boy — and less formal pastimes, like wandering into convenience stores for supplies, crossing one of the crowded bridges leading to Siesta Key and the beach, driving north and dropping in at Joel’s house, stopping over afterward at Roger’s. There always came that point in tennis when the black clouds appeared from the gulf, and the rain came down, and everyone bolted off the courts and drank water. Then, just as suddenly, the sky would clear, and the world would become loud with the sounds of seagulls calling and smaller birds chattering. The sun would emerge, and we’d pick up mid-game, aiming to avoid puddles. After the game, we would walk out to the parking lot and my uncle would open the trunk of his car.
Antrim spends many pages focusing on what might at first seem slight objects — his mattress(es), a painting his mother’s boyfriend thought was a Da Vinci, a short kimono with butterfly wings and antenna his seamstress mother made for herself — but we soon find that the objects are profound, immersed in a rich symbolic world, connected all over the place, possessing layer after layer of meaning. And if the humor is often black, it’s still funny.
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