Review: The Afterlives by Thomas Pierce

Alexis: Read 3/7/19

This book had an interesting premise, so why not check it out? After a cardiac arrest episode that leaves him legally dead, Jim Byrd lives with a device called the HeartNet. The HeartNet will continue to pump his heart if another cardiac arrest occurs. But now Jim is faced with his own mortality, and can’t help thinking about the afterlife. He and his new wife, Annie, try to figure out the afterlife by attending a new church called the Church of Search, by ghost hunting, and by tracking down a woman who claims she has a machine that will allow you to talk to the dead.

The story is in first person, told by Jim himself. But snippets of the past intersect his story. These snippets are in third person, following a cast of characters who lived in an old house, which is now a haunted restaurant. Jim and Annie aren’t sure why the house is haunted, though one of the house’s former owners, Clara, had a dog who died in a fire. I really liked these snippets into the past and thought it was an interesting choice to include them in the story.

I also really enjoyed Pierce’s writing style. His writing is conversational, and his sentences all have a pleasing cadence. Every character is a round character, with their own idiosyncrasies and passions and opinions on the afterlife.

The book has a small frame that mimics stage directions of a play. I found this fitting, as Annie is a playwright:

“Exit heartbeat. / Exit breath. / Exit every mood, every memory. / Exit you. / To where” (3)?

I enjoyed the sections about the ghost hunt, the machine, and Jim’s musings on life and death, which includes heart worries and panic attacks. There wasn’t much of a plot, and a lot of the middle section was spent on interactions with minor characters and minor plot points. Most of the book almost felt like a memoir or character study of Jim’s life. I enjoyed the beginning and the end, but I felt like 100 pages could’ve been cut out of this book and it would’ve made it more impactful.

The book also takes on a sci-fi edge, with the machine and the inclusion of holograms becoming a part of normal life. The book stretches over decades of Jim’s life, including decades into the future, but I found the holograms an odd choice for the book. Maybe they’re supposed to be symbols, like ghosts, in between life and death?

VERDICT: 3 out of 5 books

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