Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Hereafter Gang by Neal Barrett Jr. #review

Title: The Hereafter Gang
Author: Neal Barrett Jnr.
Publisher: Crossroad Press, 2013

If I have to sum up The Hereafter Gang in one word it would be “nostalgia”. That’s the only way to truly encapsulate what this book is about. On a superficial level this is a story about a man’s death and his journey into the afterlife where he spends his time sorting out his head before he goes back for another round.

But it’s more than that.

Mostly, this is a story about remembering and finding meaning. Doug exists almost as a sort of everyman, and here I’m also going to draw parallels between The Hereafter Gang and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. If you read and enjoyed Kerouac’s masterpiece then ten to one you’ll *get* what Barrett is up to in The Hereafter Gang. And you’ll understand why I compare Doug with Dean Moriarty.

The pace is slow and the narrative unfolds gradually, matching Doug’s characteristic as a drifter who cuts loose the moment it seems that he’s about to put down roots or commit to a lasting relationship. He intentionally sabotages himself and there’s a degree of irony in the fact that he works so hard to avoid any real work.

The Hereafter Gang was initially classified as a work of science fiction, but in my mind it’s most emphatically a work of literary fiction that flirts with a generous helping of magical realism.

Neal Barrett Jnr. remembers a lot here. Every scene, every paragraph is rich, dense and textured with an iconic vision of a bygone America – or perhaps an America that only exists in the memories of those who grew up during the first half of the twentieth century.

Though The Hereafter Gang begins conventionally enough, Dough’s recollections of his rejuvenating “soil immersion” quickly clue readers in that things are about to get very strange – and they do.

Doug finds his opposite and guide in Sue Jean – the epitome of innocent yet seductive “cookie” who features prominently as an object of fascination. She is the sum of all the women he has ever loved though there is more to her than meets the eye. Don’t let appearances fool you, in other words.

If you’re looking for a novel that gets to the point quickly, then this one might not be for you. But if you’re in search of a tale that’s like a lazy cat stretching in a square of late-summer sunlight, that’s laden with sensory delight, then The Hereafter Gang will be an absolute treat. Barrett’s writing is pure joy for the thrill of creating vivid imagery that speaks on multiple levels that may leave you hankering after key moments in your own childhood.

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