The Afterlife A Memoir

Donald Antrim




Trade Paperback

208 Pages



Request Desk Copy Request Exam Copy
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice In the winter of 2000, shortly after his mother's death, Donald Antrim began writing about his family. In pieces that appeared in The New Yorker and were anthologized in Best American Essays, Antrim explored his intense and complicated relationships with his mother, Louanne, an artist, teacher, and ferociously destabilizing alcoholic; his gentle grandfather, who lived in the mountains of North Carolina and who always hoped to save his daughter from herself; and his father, who married his mother twice.
The Afterlife is an elliptical, sometimes tender, sometimes blackly hilarious portrait of a family—faulty, cracked, enraging—and of a man struggling to learn the nature of his origins.


Praise for The Afterlife

"Gimlet-eyed objectivity and unflinching candor . . . Antrim never loses his sense of humor. His memories of Louanne's most obstreperous outbursts manage to couple bleak comedy with pathos, and the picture he presents of himself shimmers with deprecating hilarity . . . As an evocation of a complicated mother, these passages about Louanne and her kimono of many colors have a vividness and warmth worthy of Charles Dickens. As a depiction of a sometimes troubled, always generous and often funny woman whom I knew well, they are dead accurate and deeply moving . . . As The Afterlife suggests without surrendering to mawkish sentimentality, the woman who carries us inside her for nine months remains inside us, for good or bad, for the rest of our lives. For Antrim, his role as witness and teller of a tale of death ends up paradoxically enabling his mother to live forever."—Michael Mewshaw, Los Angeles Times Book Review
"[This is] Antrim's best book so far . . . [In] the most impressive chapter in the book . . . Antrim's habitual tug-of-war between comedy and horror—tenderness too, in this case—moves to the breaking point, and does not break."—Joan Acocella, The New York Review of Books
The Afterlife . . . is an evocative and emotionally resonant work that focuses on [Antrim’s] complicated relationship with his volatile, alcoholic mother.  But it’s no typical tale of woe.  While often dark and poignant, the story is also told with characteristic humor and playfulness.  Its true appeal lies in the way Antrim confronts ever-shifting universal questions about truth, identity, and perception . . . If the book is rich with tales of eccentric relatives and behavior, they only serve Antrim in his impressively open-minded and humble quest: to comprehend the family that helped shape him . . . Considering the subject matter’s potential for melodrama, Antrim avoids sensationalism.”—David Bahr, Poets & Writers
"Donald Antrim's absurdist struggles in the wake of his mother's death make for an unsettling yet exhilarating read . . . The brilliant, uncomfortably hilarious opening essay . . . is alone worth the price of admission."—Jocelyn McClurg, USA Today
"Antrim's an elegantly spare writer who paints harrowing scenes of his broken family . . . He doesn't create a conventional narrative but rather conveys the workings of memory—it's winding, digressive paths, its shifts from clarity to shadow, its conflicting emotional truths . . . heartbreaking."—Cathleen McGuigan, Newsweek
"[This memoir is] glimmering with hard-won beauty and alive with feeling."—Philip Connors, Newsday
"Taken as a whole, the book is an impressive, poignant jumble—which sometimes reads like an insightful monologue from a man on his psychologist's couch."—Emily Bobrow, The New York Observer
"[A] brave, anxious, and eerily ardent memoir . . . Antrim's intricate narrative is at once a portrait of a family in crisis and of a haunted man who must learn to give up the ghost."—O, The Oprah Magazine
"An acclaimed novelist, Antrim reckons with his complicated grief in this tender, often darkly comic memoir.  The Afterlife is dominated by his mother, Louanne—an artist, teacher, and emotionally volatile alcoholic—who married and separated from Antrim's father twice and died of lung cancer in 2000.  Antrim's first chapter announces his mother's death, in Black Mountain, N.C., then changes the subject to his neurotic, ill-fated attempts to buy a bed.  ('I felt, in some substantive yet elusive way, that I had had a hand in killing my mother.  And so the search for a bed became the search for sanctuary.')"—The New York Times Book Review
"Grounded and  . . . sober . . . Much in The Afterlife is memorable, but few passages are quite as riveting as those in which Antrim frankly, even ruthlessly, describes his mother and her crippling effect on his emotional well-being."—Rebecca Donner, Bookforum
"An elegant memoir about the author's turbulent relationship with his erratic, irascible, alcoholic and otherwise maddening artist-mother—who could sometimes be nurturing, even smothering. Novelist Antrim begins and ends with allusions to his mother's death from lung cancer in 2000; along the way, Antrim reminds us of her illness and of his own responses to it, including a bizarre obsession with buying a new bed after his mother died. He could not settle on a brand or style, he harassed mattress mavens, he imagined that his mother was somehow inside the bed, reaching out to him. Antrim also chronicles the weird behavior of Mom's laconic boyfriend, who believed he'd found a lost painting by Leonardo (he hadn't) and a harrowing encounter with eccentric, drunken Uncle Eldridge, who seemed on the verge of raping the author, a teen at the time. He includes revealing stories as well about his father—twice married to his mother—some grandparents, some girlfriends and his own emergence as a reader. (As a boy, he favored Tolkien, Wells and Conan Doyle.) He describes a moment of sexual awakening at age 12, when he lay naked all night with an 11-year-old girl who was a family friend, and he paints a dazzling portrait of a white kimono his mother designed, a garment whose metaphorical significance Antrim explores at length. At the heart of all lies the mother, a woman who mystifies and enrages the author even as she approaches death. A luminous meditation on the past, the enigmas of family and the tangled mystery of love."—Kirkus Reviews
"A polished stylist, penetrating thinker, and deft storyteller, Antrim not only portrays his family with sensitivity, nerve, and wit but also writes incisively about the strange wearable art his fashion-expert mother created, considers the sanctuary of literature, and reflects on visions of the afterlife, thus infusing a haunting remembrance with arresting testimony to the power of art and the mystery of spirit."—Booklist
"[The Afterlife] is darkly entertaining but also perhaps enlightening, giving readers insight into familial relationships that are poignant but also uplifting."—Library Journal
"Cynical, self-effacing and humorous prose conveys Antrim's struggle to love someone from whom he must always protect himself . . . This is a compassionate portrait of a flawed and destructive woman who, in spite of her son's enduring (if reluctantly given) devotion, couldn't be saved from herself."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

The Afterlife
My mother, Louanne Antrim, died on a fine Saturday morning in the month of August, in the year 2000. She was lying in new purple sheets on a hospital-style bed rolled up next to the green oxygen tanks set against a wall in what was more or less the living room of her oddly decorated, dark and claustrophobic house, down near the bottom of a drive that wound like a rut past a muddy construction site and backyards bordered with chain-link fence, coming to an end in the parking lot that served the cheerless duck pond at the center of the town in which she
Read the full excerpt


  • Donald Antrim

  • Donald Antrim is the author of Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World, The Hundred Brothers, and The Verificationist, and is a regular contributor to The New Yorker. He lives in New York City.
  • Donald Antrim Ulrike Schamoni