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Hear Writer Jill McCorkle Speak at Talking Leaves

Jill McCorkle

Jill McCorkle, the author of six novels and three collections of short stories, five of which have been selected as New York Times Notable Books, will give a reading at Talking Leaves (Main Street location) this Monday, March 11 at 7pm. She will also spend two days visiting classes at Nichols School. The event at Talking Leaves will be free and open to the public, although I recommend you arrive early—McCorkle’s reputation precedes her.

McCorkle is touring to promote her extraordinary new novel, Life After Life, due to be released by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill on March 26. It is the latest product of a prolific career that has netted her numerous awards and distinctions, including the New England Book Award, the John Dos Passos Prize for Excellence in Literature, and the North Carolina Award for Literature. Life After Life follows the beautifully diverse lives of the staff and residents of the Pine Haven Retirement Center, a location that emerges as a sort of Limbo, an institution whose role is as much about prolonging life as it is about easing the dying into death.

McCorkle’s impressive skill as a writer of short stories is evident in the structure of Life After Life. The novel is a collection of stories that stand alone as successful solitary compositions despite the fact that they share certain common characters. Most of all, McCorkle unites the compelling, deftly written chapters under several universal themes. Her novel testifies to the life-affirming power of the vivid memories of youth and to the cripplingly sad loss of those memories that can accompany old age. The thread that straddles the border between life and death, memory and forgetting, is of course love.

Love is what brings the bedridden man suffering from Alzheimer’s back to lucidity and the absence of love is what the embittered attendant misses most in her fledgling adult life. McCorkle bounds fluidly between these extremes without resorting to the sorts of cliché images and descriptors we might expect to find in a work with this sort of purview. As I read Life After Life it occurred to me that her relentless uniqueness and originality is due primarily to her wit. She is hilarious, and it takes serious talent to laugh in the face of death. Or maybe not talent so much as an unerring fidelity to the human experience. Laughter is natural and good, as are tears and hugs and pain and fear. All of these are present in McCorkle’s work, and in such multitudes.

Life After Life is a logical next step for McCorkle after her 2009 collection of short stories Going Away Shoes, a text that is similarly inspired, funny, moving, and most of all, unfailingly entertaining. It will certainly be a treat to hear her read her work in person on Monday. See you there.

Life After Life and several other works by Jill McCorkle are available at Talking Leaves.

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