~ About the Book ~
Snow whirls around an elevated train platform in Chicago. A distracted woman boards the train, takes her seat, and moments later a fiery explosion rips through the frigid air, tearing the car apart in a horrific attack on the city’s transit system. One life is spared. Twenty-two are lost.
A year later, Autumn Manning can’t remember the day of the bombing and she is tormented by grief—by guilt. Twelve months of the question constantly echoing. Why? Why? Why? Searching for answers, she haunts the lives of the victims, unable to rest.
Paul Elliott lost his wife in the train bombing and wants to let the dead rest in peace, undisturbed and unable to cause more pain for his loved ones. He wants normalcy for his twelve-year-old daughter and young son, to see them move beyond the heartbreak. But when the Elliotts and Autumn are unexpectedly forced together, he fears she’ll bring more wreckage in her wake.
In Life After, Katie Ganshert’s most complex and unforgettable novel yet, the stirring prose and authentic characters pose questions of truth, goodness, and ultimate purpose in this emotionally resonant tale.
~ Excerpt ~
He stood out in the hallway, in the flesh—this man who haunted the darkest corners of her mind—his hair disheveled, blinking at her like an elephant had answered the door.
Or maybe a roach.
That was how she felt anyway. Offensive and unpleasant, standing there healthy and whole, with nothing but two incriminating scars a person had to squint to see. She wanted to shrink. She wanted to disappear. She wanted to scuttle away into a dark corner and hide forever. Instead, she reminded herself to breathe and opened the door a little wider, motioning to Reese on the couch.
Paul swooped inside, filling up all the space like a thundercloud.
He shut the door behind them, and then he pulled a familiar-looking envelope from his back pocket, the seal untouched. “Can you please explain to me what this is?”
“It’s a card.”
“Why are you sending a card to my daughter?”
Autumn hugged her arms to her chest. If she let them, her teeth would start chattering like the hall was Antarctica. “She mentioned something about a birthday. I thought it might be a hard day for her.”
The confession hovered between them like Vivian’s ghost.
It sounded so innocuous.
Never mind whose.
“She mentioned it?” He articulated each word. Enunciated each syllable.
“When did she mention it?”
“She brought it up in her last letter.”
That was when it became obvious. Paul Elliott had no idea his daughter had been writing to her. He dragged his palm down the length of his face. “Reese sends you letters?”
“And you write back?”
“Only once. And then yesterday, I sent that card.” She nodded lamely at the envelope he held in his hand, her emotions going from nauseous to horrified to surreal. Like a broken traffic light, she couldn’t seem to land on one. She couldn’t seem to process the fact that she was out in the hallway, having a conversation with this particular man. “I didn’t want her to think I was ignoring her. I wanted her to know I was listening.”
“Listening to what?”
“I don’t know. Her.” Her grief. Her questions. Her memories and her musings. Sometimes, Autumn suspected that Reese had made Autumn into her own personal journal. Autumn was Reese’s Maud.
“How long has this been going on?” Paul asked.
“I need something a little more specific.”
“The first letter came two days after I woke up in the hospital.”
He pushed his fingers through his hair, then wrapped his palm around the back of his neck, shaking his head.
Autumn stood there, twisting her ring around her finger. But that made her sad, so she stopped. The ring she wore now was a consolation. A gift from her dad as soon as he realized that the original ring—her mother’s beloved Claddagh ring—was gone. The explosion on the train must have blasted it off her finger. It disappeared. Vanished amid the rubble, like so many other things.
“I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t write to her anymore.”
The request made her sad too, only she wasn’t sure why. It wasn’t like she had planned on keeping up the correspondence. She was only ever going to send that one letter, and that one letter alone.
“I’m sorry if I’m being rude,” he said. “I just think it’s best for Reese to…move on.”
Oh, how Autumn hated those words.
Paul stared for a beat, his eyes bracketed with tension. He looked like he had other things he wanted to say. But instead of saying them, he went back inside. He collected his daughter, who thanked Autumn again for the milk. And just like that, the real-life Paul and Reese were gone.
By the time Autumn turned the lock, her entire body was trembling.
~ Review ~
Wow. I’m not sure I have the words to adequately review this novel. I knew from the outset that this would be an emotional read, and indeed, it held my heart in a vice throughout—sometimes squeezing to the point of wringing tears, occasionally releasing unexpectedly with a moment of levity, but mostly, holding it in a sure and firm grip. And yet, as I sit here now, absorbing and reflecting on what I have just read and the emotions I have experienced, I feel this strange sense of peace, as though I can breathe more freely, more deeply now than I could before. And I think that’s exactly how Autumn and Paul felt at the end of this novel too.
I love the opening line of this novel: We rarely know when death will come. It perfectly sets the tone for the story and for the weight of grief that burdens both Autumn Manning and Paul Elliot—except in the case of Autumn Manning, the grief is not one of loss, but survival. Why, of all the people on that train, was she the lone survivor? She no longer feels like she belongs in the land of the living, which only deepens her sense of guilt. Surely, as the lone survivor, she should be making her life count for something.
While Autumn is struggling to deal with the past every day, Paul Elliot refuses to dwell on it—or to let his twelve-year-old daughter Reese dwell on it, either. While it may have been Autumn’s story that initially drew me to this novel, I found myself drawn ever deeper into the story as the layers of complexity to Paul’s story, and therefore Reese’s, were peeled back, one by one. I could feel every bit of the tension between Paul and Autumn, even before I fully understood all of the reasons behind it, and yet the way they began to connect was also so real, so authentic.
This novel is a powerful illustration of two truths that run contrary to human instinct: Firstly, that nothing good comes from hiding the ugly, and secondly, that God is good, even in the midst of unfathomable tragedy. This is certainly not the first story to tackle these truths, but it is one of the few that will linger in my memory as having helped me experience those truths for myself.
A powerful and compelling read!
I received a copy of this novel from the publisher. This has not influenced the content of my review.
Release date: 18 April 2017
~ About the Author ~
Katie Ganshert was born and raised in the exciting state of Iowa, where she currently resides with her family. She likes to write things and consume large quantities of coffee and chocolate while she writes all the things. She’s won some awards. For the writing, not the consuming. Although the latter would be fun.