Brooklyn Bookbeat: Author’s first novel in 17 years explores ‘Life After Life’

Jill McCorkle, author of nine previous books, is coming out this month with “Life After Life” – her first novel in seventeen years. Set at Pine Haven Estates, a retirement facility in Fulton, North Carolina, “Life After Life” follows the stories of several of the residents. Among the complex characters are Sadie Randolph, a third-grade teacher who believes in the longevity of youth; Stanley Stone, a retired lawyer who pretends to suffer from dementia; Marge Walker, who compiles a scrapbook for every local crime; and Rachel Silverman, a recent widow who mysteriously arrives in Fulton from Massachusetts.

The residents rely heavily on staff members C.J., a pierced and tattooed mother who runs the beauty shop, and Joanna, a hospice volunteer who has found her calling helping the elderly. McCorkle intricately develops her characters, highlighting their assets and flaws and connecting their lives through their pasts, their present, and even their deaths.

McCorkle will be appearing at DUMBO’s powerHouse Arena on Friday, March 15 for a book launch party. She will discuss her book with award-winning writer Christine Schutt. In celebration of the book’s release, Brooklyn Eagle spoke to McCorkle, who tells us about the novel she’s “always wanted to write.”

 

What inspired the plot and set-up of this novel?

The plot and set up of the novel was inspired by my desire to engage a lot of different voices.  Some are very much in the present situation of the novel and others are voices captured by the notes of a hospice volunteer.  My goal was to distil whole lives into an image or phrase or memory.  The ultimate hope was to move between the two in such a way that the reader felt very aware of the fragile line between life and death, as well as the impact one life might have on another within a community.

 

After a 17-year hiatus, what motivated you to publish another book?

It’s been seventeen years since I had a novel, but I’ve always been writing.  I was collecting notes for this novel but I also published a couple of short story collections and some essays as well.  This is the novel I have always wanted to write.  I don’t think I could have written it any sooner.

 

Had you spent time investigating different retirement communities prior to writing this book?

I didn’t need to research.  My mother is in a nursing facility and has been for several years.  I grew up spending a lot of time with my grandmother and other elderly relatives and visited places often as a kid.  I have always been drawn to the elderly population and have been an active listener to story and memory. There’s still a lot of life there and it is a huge mistake to assume otherwise.

 

What does your typical day of writing entail?

My typical writing day entails a lot of note taking and storing up for a big block of time when I can really settle in and work.  The ideal writing day would be to get up early and work until noon and then circle back several hours later to revise. 

 

What are you reading now?

I just read Holly Goddard Jones’s new novel “The Next Time You See Me” and George Saunders’ “Tenth of December”—both excellent.  I’m currently reading Ron Rash’s wonderful new collection: “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”

 

Are you working on any new projects?

I have quite a few stories all sketched out that I am working on and I also have the idea for my next novel and so I am back into my full time note taking.

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The March 15 event begins at 6 p.m. powerHouse Arena is located at 37 Main St. in DUMBO.