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The Afterlife: A Memoir

The Afterlife: A Memoir

by Donald Antrim

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From "a fiercely intelligent writer" (The New York Times), a wry, poignant story of the difficult love between a mother and a son

In the winter of 2000, shortly after his mother's death from cancer and malnourishment, Donald Antrim, author of the absurdist, visionary masterworks Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World, The Hundred


From "a fiercely intelligent writer" (The New York Times), a wry, poignant story of the difficult love between a mother and a son

In the winter of 2000, shortly after his mother's death from cancer and malnourishment, Donald Antrim, author of the absurdist, visionary masterworks Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World, The Hundred Brothers, and The Verificationist, began writing about his family. In pieces that appeared in The New Yorker and were anthologized in Best American Essays, Antrim explored
his intense and complicated relationships with his mother, Louanne, an artist and teacher who was, at her worst, a ferociously destabilized and destabilizing alcoholic; his gentle grandfather, who lived in the mountains of North Carolina and who always hoped to save his daughter from herself; and his father, who married Louanne twice.

The Afterlife is not a temporally linear coming-of-age memoir; instead, Antrim follows a logic of unconscious life, of dreams and memories, of fantasies and psychoses, the way in which the world of the alcoholic becomes a sleepless, atemporal world. In it, he comes to terms with—and fails to comes to terms with—the nature of addiction and the broken states of loneliness, shame, and loss that remain beyond his power to fully repair. This is a tender and even blackly hilarious portrait of a family—faulty, cracked, enraging. It is also the story of the way the author works, in part through writing this book, to become a man more fully alive to himself and to others, a man capable of a life in which he may never learn, or ever hope to know, the nature of his origins.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Acclaimed novelist Antrim (The Verificationist) makes his first foray into memoir with a moving attempt at tracing the roots of his own depression, anxiety and trouble with women. He does this by examining his relationship to his life-threateningly alcoholic mother, Louanne, who wrecked two marriages to the same man and irrevocably scarred her children. In the most comical of the book's seven associatively organized parts (most were New Yorker pieces), Antrim tries, shortly after Louanne's death in 2000, to buy himself a new bed, only to be goaded by guilt and paranoia into buying and returning several. Another piece focuses on a bizarre kimono Louanne, a highly skilled seamstress, made late in her life, complete with sewn on giraffe, mystic birds and potpourri pouches. In the powerful final episode, during Louanne's last big hallucinatory drunk, while dragons fly about her head, Antrim must find the strength to become his mother's parent. Cynical, self-effacing and humorous prose conveys Antrim's struggle to love someone from whom he must always protect himself. While readers may want more penetrating self-analysis and narrative gaps filled in, this is a compassionate portrait of a flawed and destructive woman who, in spite of her son's enduring (if reluctantly given) devotion, couldn't be saved from herself. (June) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Novelist Antrim (The Verificationist) used to contribute pieces to The New Yorker about the hardships of his family, especially his complicated and strained relationship with his alcoholic mother. The essays were later anthologized in Best American Essays. Here he collects many of those stories and adds some new ones to form a disjointed and dreamlike memoir rich with emotion. In an attempt to come to terms with his own sense of loss and despair, the author reflects on his family's various struggles: his grandfather's desire to save his daughter from her addiction; his eccentric uncle, who lived with his own mother; his father, who married the author's mother twice; and his alcoholic mother, who struggled with cancer and finally succumbed to the disease and malnourishment. The book is darkly entertaining but also perhaps enlightening, giving readers insight into familial relationships that are poignant but also uplifting. Recommended for all public and college libraries.-Mark Alan Williams, Library of Congress Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
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.
From the Publisher
"The Afterlife is like nothing else. With tenderness, humor, and insight, Donald Antrim evokes the volatile atmosphere of the home that he and his sister shared with mother Louanne. . . . Should be required reading for everyone who has been haunted by the restless ghosts of those they love most."—Francine Prose, People

"The book is very funny when it wants to be, but in between it is rueful. . . . It's Antrim's best book so far."—Joan Acocella, The New York Review of Books

"A memoir glimmering with hard-won beauty and alive with meaning."—Newsday

"An unsettling yet exhilarating read."—USA Today

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2006 Donald Antrim
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-374-29961-7

Chapter One

My mother, Louanne Antrim, died on a fine Saturday morning in the month of August, in the year 2000. She was lying in new purple sheets on a hospital-style bed rolled up next to the green oxygen tanks set against a wall in what was more or less the living room of her oddly decorated, dark and claustrophobic house, down near the bottom of a drive that wound like a rut past a muddy construction site and backyards bordered with chain-link fence, coming to an end in the parking lot that served the cheerless duck pond at the center of the town in which she had lived the last five years of her life, Black Mountain, North Carolina. The occasion for my mother's move to North Carolina from Florida had been the death of her father, Don Self, from a heart attack, in 1995. Don Self's widow, my mother's mother, Roxanne, was at that time beginning her fall into senility, and was, in any case, unequipped to manage the small estate that my grandfather had left in her name. What I mean to say is that my grandmother, who came of age in the Great Depression and who brought away from that era almost no concept of money beyond the idea that it is not good to give too much of it to one's children, was unlikely to continue her husband's tradition of making large monthly transfers into my mother's bankaccount. Don Self had kept his daughter afloat for a long while-ever since she'd got sober, thirteen years before, and decided that she was an artist and a visionary, ahead of her time- and now, suddenly, it was incumbent on my mother to seize power of attorney over her mother and take control of the portfolio, a coup she might have accomplished from Miami but was better able to arrange through what in the espionage community is known as closework.

Four years later, Roxanne Self passed away. The funeral was held at the Black Mountain Presbyterian Church in September of 1999. A week after that, my mother-barely days after having got, as I heard her proclaim more than once, "free of that woman, now I'm going to go somewhere I want to go and live my life"-went into the hospital with a lung infection and learned that she, too, would shortly be dead.

She was sixty-five and had coughed and coughed for years and years. There had never been any talking to her about her smoking. The news that she had cancer came as no surprise. It had grown in her bronchi and was inoperable. Radiation was held out as a palliative-it might (and briefly did) shrink the tumor enough to allow air into the congested lung-but my mother was not considered a candidate for chemotherapy. She had, during the course of forty years of, as they say, hard living, progressively and inexorably deteriorated. The story of my mother's lifelong deterioration is, in some respects, the story of her life. The story of my life is bound up in this story, the story of her deterioration. It is the story that is always central to the ways in which I perceive myself and others in the world. It is the story, or at any rate it is my role in the story, that allows me never to lose my mother.


Excerpted from THE AFTERLIFE by DONALD ANTRIM Copyright © 2006 by Donald Antrim. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

DONALD ANTRIM is the author of Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World, The Hundred Brothers, and The Verificationist. He is a regular contributor to The New Yorker, and has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. He lives in New York City.

Donald Antrim is the critically acclaimed author of Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World, The Hundred Brothers, and The Verificationist, as well The Afterlife, a memoir about his mother. A regular contributor to The New Yorker, he has also been the recipient of a MacArthur "Genius" Grant and fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York Public Library. He lives in New York City.  

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