Ever have that experience where you read a “new” author and exclaim, “Who is this guy and why hasn’t anybody told me about him?” Howard Norman’s Next Life Might Be Kinder is that kind of book.
I love the fact that this novel is summarized by the first line of the book: “After my wife, Elizabeth Church, was murdered by the bellman Alfonse Padgett in the Essex Hotel, she did not leave me.”
The narrator of the novel is Sam Lattimore, a novelist himself who narrates this story to us in two alternating time periods: the time leading up to the murder of his wife and the time after.
In the part that covers the time leading up to the murder, we learn how Sam and Elizabeth fell in love, got married, moved into the Essex Hotel, took lindy lessons and set the stage for Elizabeth’s murder.
In the part that covers the time after the murder we see Sam talk to his dead wife on the beach each night, talk in therapy, deal with unwanted attention and friendship and watch his disintegration into rage. While you might assume the rage is about Elizabeth’s murder, you might be surprised to discover that it is also his guilt over having sold the film rights to their life and now having to watch actors play Elizabeth and him in front of the cameras.
Complex. Very easy to discuss. If I was saying to myself right now, “Who is this Howard Norman and why hasn’t anybody told me about him?” I would read this book and think about having a discussion on it.