Russell Banks's fiction holds such a simple, internal authority . . . The story he tells is grave and unusually urgent, his prose as careful as a trail of stones left in the forest . . . These voices ache with a particular brand of reality [and] Banks evokes each of his characters with fluid authenticity . . . Russell Banks is a writer of extraordinary power.
San Francisco Chronicle
Banks posses many questions, and his canvas is far larger than any thumbnail sketch of its components can suggest.
Without sentimentalizing them in the least, Banks has extended the themes explored in his previous novels . . . to show that wiser, possibly even better people can emerge from the ordeal: that some old American decencies still prevail, against all the odds.
A novel of compelling moral suspense . . . [a] superb book . . . a remarkable book, a sardonic and compassionate account of a community and its people.
Mr. Banks's colorful characters are so believable they could have stepped out of the Rendez-Vous tavern across from the Bide-A-Wile motel . . . The Sweet Hereafter is rich in imagery and the detail of small-town life and haunting in its portrayal of ordinary men and women struggling to understand loss. Under Mr. Banks's restrained craftsmanship, what begins as the story of senseless tragedy is transformed into an aspiring testament to hope and human resilience.
The Sweet Hereafter . . . is a close and haunting story of a small town in distress . . . unflinching and quietly powerful.
Mr. Banks . . . does a smoothly professional job of giving the reader a finely observed portrait of small town life . . . It's as though he has cast a large stone into a quiet pond, then minutely charted the shape and size of the ripples sent out in successive waves . . . It is often gripping, consistently engaging and from time to time genuinely affecting.
This beautifully written book's most brilliant strategy is . . . to explore the complexity of grief and hope.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Banks employs a series of narrators to present a powerful account of an Adirondack community riven by a bus accident that claims 14 children. A Literary Guild alternate in cloth. (Aug.)
One snowy morning in the small town of Sam Dent in upstate New York, a school bus careens into a frozen stream, killing 14 children. The Sweet Hereafter examines the aftereffects of this accident through the eyes of four narrators: the driver of the bus, a parent devastated by the loss of two children, an opportunistic big-city lawyer, and a permanently crippled teenager who survived the crash. Grief and an obsessive need to assign blame draw the townspeople together; all too quickly the focus shifts from what they have lost to how much they stand to collect in insurance settlements. Banks, who along with Raymond Carver, Ernest Herbert, and a handful of other writers has revived the genre of working-class fiction in the last decade, is uncharacteristically heavy-handed in extracting a moral from these proceedings. Not up to the high standard set by Continental Drift ( LJ 4/15/85). Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/91.-- Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles
From the Publisher
"Russell Banks' work presents without falsehood and with a tough affection the uncompromising moral voice of our time. You find the craziness of false dreams, the political inequalities and somehow the silver of redemption. I trust his portrait of America more than any other the burden of it, the need for it, the hell of it." Michael Ondaatje
"A writer of extraordinary power.... The story of Russell tells is grave and unusually urgent, his prose as careful as a trail of stones left in the forest... these voices ache with a particular brand of reality." The Boston Globe
"The characters are rendered with such clear-eyed affection, the central tragedy handled with such unsentimental artistry, the wonderfully named mountain hamlet of Sam Dent described in such precise (and often funny) detail, The Sweet Hereafter is not only Banks' most accomplished book to date, but his most accessible and ultimately affirmative. Russell Banks knows everything worth knowing... and much, much more." Washington Post Book World
Read an Excerpt
A dog--it was a dog I saw for certain. Or thought I saw. It was snowing pretty hard by then, and you can see things in the snow that aren't there, or aren't exactly there, but you also can't see some of the things that are there, so that by God when you do see something, you react anyhow, erring on the distaff side, if you get my drift. That's my training as a driver, but it's also my temperament as a mother of two grown sons and wife to an invalid, and that way when I'm wrong at least I'm wrong on the side of the angels.
It wag like the ghost of a dog I saw, a reddish-brown blur, much smaller than a deer--which is what you'd expect to see out there that early--although the same gingerbread color as a deer it was, moving fast behind the cloud of snow falling between us, then slow, and then stopped altogether in the middle of the road, like it was trying to make up its mind whether to go on or go back.
I couldn't see it clearly, so can't say what it was for sure, but I saw the blur clearly, that's what I mean to say, and that's what I reacted to. These things have to happen faster than you can think about them, because if they don't, you're going to be locked in place just like that dog or deer or whatever the hell it was, and you'll get smacked head-on the same as that dog would have if I hadn't hit the brake and pulled the wheel without thinking.
But there's no point now to lingering over the dog, whether it was a dog or a tiny deer, or even an optical illusion, which, to be absolutely truthful, now seems likeliest. AH that matters is that I saw something I didn't expect out there and didn'tparticularly identify at the time, there being no time for that--so let's just say it was like a dog, one of those small red spaniels, smaller than a setter, the size of a kid in a rust-colored snowsuit, and I did what anyone with half a brain would have done: I tried to avoid hitting it.
It was in first fight and, as I said, blowing snow by then, but when I started my route that morning, when I left the house, it was still dark, of course, and no snow falling. You could sniff the air, though, and smell it coming, but despite that, I had thought at first that it was too cold to snow. Which is what I said to Abbott, who is my husband and doesn't get out of the house very much because of his being in a wheelchair, so I have this habit of reporting the weather to him, more or less, every morning when I first step out of the kitchen onto the back porch.
"I smell snow," I said, and leaned down and checked the thermometer by the door. It's posted low on the frame of the storm door, so Abbott can scoot over and open the inside door and check the temperature anytime he wants. "Seventeen below," I told him. "Too cold to snow."
Abbott was at one time an excellent carpenter, but in 1984 he had a stroke, and although he has recovered somewhat, he's still pretty much housebound and has trouble talking normally and according to some people is incomprehensible, yet I myself understand him perfectly. No doubt it's because I know that his mind is dear. The way Abbott has handled the consequences of his stroke is sufficient evidence that he is a very courageous man, but he was always a logical person with a lively interest in the world around him, so I make an effort to bring him as much information about the world as I can. It's the least I can do.
'Never . . . that . . . cold," he said. He's worked out a way of talking with just the left side of his mouth, but he stammers some and spits a bit and makes a grimace that some people would find embarrassing and so would look away and as a result not fully understand him. I myself find his way of talking very interesting, actually, and even charming. And not just because I'm used to it. To tell the truth, I don't think I'll ever get used to it, which is why it's so interesting and attractive to me. Me, I'm a talker, and consequently like a lot of talkers tend to say things I don't mean. But Abbott, more than anyone else I know, has to make his words count, almost like a poet, and because he's passed so dose to death he has a clarity about life that most of us can't even imagine.
"North . . . Pole's . . . under . . . snow," he said.
No arguing with that. I grabbed my coffee thermos, pecked him with a kiss and waved him goodbye as, usual, shut the door and went out to the barn and got my bus started. I kept an extra battery and jumper cables in the kitchen, just in case, but the old girl was fine that morning and cranked right up. By nature I'm a careful person and not overly optimistic, especially when it comes to machinery and tools, I keep everything in tiptop condition, with plenty of backup. Batteries, tires, oil, antifreeze, the whole bit. I treated that bus like it was my own, maybe even better, for obvious reasons, but also because that's my temperament. I'm the kind of person who always follows the manual. No shortcuts.