Sweet Hereafter: A Novel

Sweet Hereafter: A Novel

by Russell Banks

Paperback(Reprint)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060923242
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 11/25/1997
Series: Harper Perennial
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 492,111
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.61(d)
Lexile: 1180L (what's this?)

About the Author

Russell Banks, twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, is one of America’s most prestigious fiction writers, a past president of the International Parliament of Writers, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His work has been translated into twenty languages and has received numerous prizes and awards, including the Common Wealth Award for Literature. He lives in upstate New York and Miami, Florida.

Date of Birth:

March 28, 1940

Place of Birth:

Newton, Massachusetts

Read an Excerpt

Dolores Driscoll

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.

What People are Saying About This

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"Russell Banks is a writer of extraordinary power."

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Sweet Hereafter 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the narration by different perspectives. It made it very hard to make someone out as a bad guy. Some of the narrations left me wanting more. What ever happened to the attorney and his daughter? There is a lot of character development but then it left me hanging.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I recently finished this novel, which I was asked to read for my grade 8 class. The teacher thought I would like it because it deals with kids my age. Sadly, I found this book disturbing and inapropriate. The descriptive parts were long and redundant, and it had way to much sexual content for a 13 year old. If any of you are teachers reading this, I would urge you not to give it to your class as required reading.
jtho on LibraryThing 5 months ago
It's the story of a small town shattered by a bus accident that kills half of the children in the town, but what makes this a great read is the characterization. Each chapter is told from the perspective of someone else affected by the crash, and the voice of each one is so real and so unlike the others. We get such a deeper understanding of the accident and its effects through these different perspectives, and are sympathetic towards characters we might otherwise hate. It's an amazing book.
JosephJ on LibraryThing 6 months ago
Not the best of Banks that I have read so far, but a compelling read nonetheless. He plays with the idea of truth and perspective by having multiple narrators give their opinion as to what really happened the day Sam Dent bus driver, Dolores Driscoll, lost control of her school bus. All but a handful of kids die. Who is to blame? Is blaming anyone fair?The only downside to this novel, which wasn't so bad I guess, is that I wanted to know a little bit more about the people who narrate the book because they were all so very interesting. I also wanted to hear from a few of the other people mentioned in the book who aren't given a chance to speak.
sturlington on LibraryThing 6 months ago
This is one case where I thought the movie version surpassed the novel, perhaps because I saw the movie first and it moved me so deeply. But the novel, in its wrenching account of a tragic school bus accident in a small town and the changes it wreaks in the four point-of-view characters, is enthralling, and it succeeds in really letting us inside the characters¿ heads in a way the movie could not do.
Voracious_Reader on LibraryThing 6 months ago
Well-written, but lifeless. The novel creates sweeping depictions of a rural, impoverished and largely isolated town in the New Hampshire mountains. Four characters narrate versions of a school bus crash and its aftermath and their stories overlay and intersect with one another. Although each character has a very different voice, the book just oozes gloominess no matter who is speaking. Given the subject matter of the book, that's not entirely suprising; still, it's just dark on top of dark on top of darker. Also, many if not all of the characters are very difficult to like even once we understand them. I liked the movie better; it has feeling that the book lacks.
wordygirl39 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
A good book. I used to make my creative writing students read it and would always put it on any list of fiction a writer should read.
nefernika on LibraryThing 8 months ago
This is the only time I've cried while reading about a demolition derby. Fantastic use of multiple narrators to nuance and enrich this story of unimaginable tragedy and how accountability, blame, money, law, and guilt each comes into play in different ways from different perspectives.
abirdman on LibraryThing 8 months ago
A deeply imagined book takes a flinty-eyed examination of a town and characters involved in the aftermath of a tragedy. Banks maintains a nearlly intoxicating level of sadness, and uncovers the dignity, courage and humanity in even the most flawed characters. If there's a message here, it's that we all share in a tragedy that befalls our community. This was made into a good movie, but do yourself a favor and read the book first. A good cry can be redeeming.
davidabrams on LibraryThing 9 months ago
I broke the rule when I read "The Sweet Hereafter." You know, the old rule of folks like me who love books and movies in equal measure: always read the book first because the suits in Hollywood have a way of mangling literature. It¿s happened recently with "Les Miserables," "The Scarlet Letter" and, most horrifically, "A Prayer For Owen Meany" (which came to the screen as "Simon Birch").But "The Sweet Hereafter" was different for me. I¿d heard so many good things about the movie that I couldn¿t wait to see director Atom Egoyan¿s vision of Russell Banks¿ novel about a school bus accident and its shattering effect on the people in a small town. The movie did not disappoint. It was a great example of good film storytelling, revealing complex characters with a minimum of Hollywood gloss and formula. I was very moved by "The Sweet Hereafter" (the movie).So, when I came to "The Sweet Hereafter" (the book) several months after watching the movie, I had high expectations. Russell Banks did not disappoint, either. In fact, he goes the film one better (as all great books do) by delving into the heart and mind of a character the film pushes to one side: the driver of the school bus.The novel begins and ends with Dolores Driscoll, the forty-something woman who was behind the wheel of the school bus when it skidded off the road one winter morning and plunged into a reservoir. In the book, Dolores is a sympathetic character; we feel her overwhelming grief and guilt over the accident which killed 14 of the town¿s children.Banks is smart to begin "The Sweet Hereafter" with Dolores¿ voice. Not only does it orient us to the basic details of the accident, it also immediately polarizes our sympathies for the woman. As the town gradually comes to blame her for what happens, it is heartbreaking since (through the eyes of Dolores, at least) we know it was truly an accident, not negligence. By the end of the novel, Dolores has been almost completely ostracized and there is a heartbreaking scene at the town¿s annual demolition derby that will crumble even the most jaded reader. The rest of the novel is like an overture building to this one powerful scene at the derby where Dolores feels the eyes of the town on her as she carries her crippled husband up into the grandstands. By the time Dolores has found her seat, there won¿t be a dry eye in the house. (Interestingly enough, it¿s also a scene which never made its way onto the screen.)Dolores is just one of four characters who, through their own voices, tell the story of the accident. There¿s also Billy Ansel, a loving father of two who was following the school bus when it smashed through the guardrail. And Mitchell Stephens, the city lawyer who invades the town like "a heat-seeking missile" before the 14 bodies are even buried. And Nichole Burnell, the high school¿s most popular girl who was paralyzed in the accident.Four distinct voices, four versions of the events¿it¿s like interviewing traffic accident witnesses who stood on four different corners. Each character brings along enough emotional baggage to keep a psychiatrist booked for years to come. As in the movie, the most compelling and chilling story belongs to Nichole whose secret is even more shattering than the bus accident itself.How these lives intersect and intertwine is part of Banks¿ mastery. He¿s been good before ("Rule of the Bone," "Cloudsplitter"), but here he is great, achieving a true peak in his career as a teller of stories which have a profound effect on the reader. "The Sweet Hereafter" (the movie) was so good because, I think, it had such a firm foundation: "The Sweet Hereafter" (the novel). No matter which medium you choose, I guarantee you won¿t walk away from the story unmoved. "The Sweet Hereafter" haunts.
ladymink on LibraryThing 9 months ago
Loved the way this was written. It's more like 4 short stories all in this one small town, everything revolving around a shared tragedy. Had to read it for college lit, but was pleasantly surprised.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nice story. Just a little less rushed and more detail. :) read mine at 'erduit' all results continued at 'uj' results 1-13!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was fantastic. Within the first ten pages I was hooked and couldn't set it down! Very good story...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's written in such a way that you just flow from one event to the next. The language is simple but powerful. I totally recommend it!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book i cant even stop reading it . This book is so exciting
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
a great book that really made me think and evoked a great deal of emotion
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Guest More than 1 year ago
What happens to a small town when it loses a number of its children in a senseless accident? 'The Sweet Hereafter' is narrated by different people involved in the accident, each with his/her perspective, opinion, and ox to gore. I particularly admire Banks' ability to change voice from one person to the next, and the way he maintains suspense not only from a plot point of view (what happens next?) but also by reliability of narrator (that's what he said; what will she say?). My only gripe is that it's a rather short book and could have gone into more detail. But isn't it better for a novel to be too short than too long?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago