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“Ridiculously good” (The New York Times) author Thomas Pierce's debut novel is a funny, poignant love story that answers the question: What happens after we die? (Lots of stuff, it turns out).
Jim Byrd died. Technically. For a few minutes. The diagnosis: heart attack at age thirty. Revived with no memory of any tunnels, lights, or angels, Jim wonders what--if anything--awaits us on the other side.
Then a ghost shows up. Maybe. Jim and his new wife, Annie, find themselves tangling with holograms, psychics, messages from the beyond, and a machine that connects the living and the dead. As Jim and Annie journey through history and fumble through faith, they confront the specter of loss that looms for anyone who dares to fall in love. Funny, fiercely original, and gracefully moving, The Afterlives will haunt you. In a good way.
Pierce's first novel (after the story collection The Hall of Small Mammals) is a free-spirited lark that questions how people live with the presence of death. After suffering cardiac arrest and a five-minute clinical death, 33-year-old commercial loan officer Jim Byrd is outfitted with an experimental defibrillator called a HeartNet. Soon after, Jim begins to notice strange things in the world around him: holograms of dead celebrities like Prince and Robin Williams begin to walk the earth, a strange Christian sect called the Church of Search comes to town, and Jim becomes obsessed with a staircase that may be a portal to the afterlife, through which a voice enigmatically chants, "The dog is on fire." His companion in these investigations is a young widow named Annie Creel, and, after the two impulsively marry, they find questions of life and death intruding on love. More subplots accrue, including the league of unscrupulous elders known as the White Hairs, the legacy of a blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter, and rumors of a hacker targeting the HeartNet technology. Pierce's breezy style only partially saves the overlong novel from a lack of urgency affecting almost all of its numerous story lines. When it gels, the novel manages a rare and significant clarity about the effects of death on the living (particularly couples, aware that all romance is ultimately temporary), but otherwise it seems unsure which story it wants to tell.