Reviews for Life After Death : A Novel
Booklist Monthly Selections - #2 May 2001
/*Starred Review*/ Boyd was just a step away from becoming an obstetrician-gynecologist when her career was derailed by two people: the charming, wealthy, and mercurial Russell and a mother of three who died while intern Boyd performed an abortion. Her death is not Boyd's fault, but it prompts her to abandon her career and marry Russell, with whom she has a daughter, Freddy. Her life would be idyllic, except for the regret and the anger. One night Russell so enrages Boyd that she tells him to die, and he does. Boyd goes into shock: more guilt, another ghost. Meanwhile her elegant mother-in-law has her own transgressions to cope with, and four-year-old Freddy convinces herself that she can liberate her daddy from his underground abode. Boyd finds herself drawn to Will, who gave up his dream of being an architect to run his family's St. Paul mortuary and who is also haunted by his dead. These are the parameters within which Muske-Dukes, an astute and poetic novelist, works her magic. As in Saving St. Germ (1993), her characters are charismatic, and her musings on grief, ritual, the quandaries of abortion, and questions of responsibility charge this riveting, gently humorous, and prismatically beautiful novel. ((Reviewed May 15, 2001)) Copyright2001 Booklist Reviews
Kirkus Reviews 2001 April #2
Though her objectives are often transparent, Muske-Dukes's latest, if a bit macabre, is an affecting tale of a guilt-haunted man and woman who learn to accept the inevitable presence of death in life.The story, Minneapolis-set, moves between past and present as the two protagonists learn age-old lessons. Fortyish Boyd Schaeffer, a widow and the mother of preschool daughter Freddy, is an obstetrician who stopped practicing when a woman she was performing a late abortion on died. Will Youngren, also known teasingly as Dr. Death, runs an undertaking business. He's 40, unmarried, and can cope with most deaths except those of babies and young children. Will and Boyd meet when she comes to make the arrangements for the funeral of her husband Russell, who has died of an apparent heart attack while playing tennis. Both are obsessed with the dead: Boyd not only has never forgotten the fatal abortion, but she now feels responsible for Russell's death as well. The day before he died, they had quarreled, and she had asked him to do her a favor and "die." And Will still feels responsible for not having saved his twin sister Signe, whose sled careened into a tree when they were 14. As Boyd, troubled by Russell's seemingly continued presence (she keeps finding notes he wrote for her) starts practicing medicine again and tries to help daughter Freddy accept Russell's death, she discovers the real cause behind it. There are some other bittersweet truths that emerge about Russell, a charming, wealthy man and a liar--all, as it turns out, smoke and mirrors. And when Will tells her about Signe, both find opportunities to exorcise their ghosts and move on.An intelligent, sometimes luminous take on a distressing subject. Copyright Kirkus 2001 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved
Library Journal Reviews 2001 June #1
In the latest from poet and novelist Muske-Dukes (Dear Digby), Boyd Schaeffer tells her husband to die and he does. When they quarreled, she never dreamed that the very next day Russell would have a fatal heart attack, leaving Boyd and their young daughter, Freddy, to cope without him. Russell was rich, charming, and not all that reliable, and his marriage to Boyd was less than perfect. His death brings up some of Boyd's past issues with death, including the time she was an obstetrician in New York City and a woman died in her care. When Boyd married Russell, she returned to Minnesota, leaving her career behind. Will, the undertaker who handles Russell's burial, attempts to befriend Boyd. But Will, too, is haunted by a past death that of his fraternal twin sister, Signe. The novel is rounded out by Russell's wealthy, enigmatic mother, Gerda, and Griggs, the eccentric embalmer who works for Will. These well-developed characters affect one another throughout the uneven narrative as they deal with issues of death and how to keep on living. The novel doesn't always flow smoothly, but this doesn't detract from a story to which many readers will relate. Recommended for public libraries. Robin Nesbitt, Columbus Metropolitan Lib. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2001 April #4
"I'm stronger than my own power to destroy. That's my motto now," says Boyd Schaeffer, the protagonist of Muske-Dukes's latest novel (after Saving St. Germ; Dear Digby). Like a fairy tale, Boyd's story begins with a careless but fateful event: a curse uttered during an argument with her insidiously charming husband, Russell, who reveals to her that he believes he is dying. Boyd wishes aloud that he would die, since she suspects him of getting drunk and briefly losing their daughter, Freddy, at the park. It turns out Russell wasn't exaggerating, as his death on the tennis court of their St. Paul home the next day proves. Forty-two-year-old Russell seemed to have everything money, looks, sensitivity. But the two things he really wanted the unconditional love of his wife and literary renown evaded his grasp. His death leaves Boyd with a question and a ghost: who was Russell? Boyd goes back into medicine (a field she left years earlier, after a patient died during an abortion procedure), snubs just about everyone she knows and becomes progressively more bewildered by her own grief as she tries to understand better the circumstances surrounding Russell's death. Boyd is not what one would call likable she's confrontational, stubborn and irascible but it's hard not to be won over by her. Her foil in the novel is Will Youngren, the funeral-home owner who buries Russell. Her quest for the meaning of her husband's life mirrors Will's need to end his own long mourning for his dead twin sister, and the two begin to find strength and support in each other. Muske-Dukes, who is also a poet (An Octave Above Thunder, etc.), has shaped an exquisitely written tale with raw emotional appeal, a deeply humanistic story of death, grief and survival. 5-city author tour. (On-sale: June 12) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.