Reader reviews for The Sweet Hereafter

This is the only time I've cried while reading about a demolition derby. Fantastic use of multiple narrators to nuance and enrich this story of unimaginable tragedy and how accountability, blame, money, law, and guilt each comes into play in different ways from different perspectives.
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Wonderful quick read told in the voice of 4 of the characters each giving their unique perspective how a school bus accident changed their lives. This is a 1991 book but may well be worth checking out other works by this author. March 2013
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Not the best of Banks that I have read so far, but a compelling read nonetheless. He plays with the idea of truth and perspective by having multiple narrators give their opinion as to what really happened the day Sam Dent bus driver, Dolores Driscoll, lost control of her school bus. All but a handful of kids die. Who is to blame? Is blaming anyone fair?The only downside to this novel, which wasn't so bad I guess, is that I wanted to know a little bit more about the people who narrate the book because they were all so very interesting. I also wanted to hear from a few of the other people mentioned in the book who aren't given a chance to speak.
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It's the story of a small town shattered by a bus accident that kills half of the children in the town, but what makes this a great read is the characterization. Each chapter is told from the perspective of someone else affected by the crash, and the voice of each one is so real and so unlike the others. We get such a deeper understanding of the accident and its effects through these different perspectives, and are sympathetic towards characters we might otherwise hate. It's an amazing book.
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Well-written, but lifeless. The novel creates sweeping depictions of a rural, impoverished and largely isolated town in the New Hampshire mountains. Four characters narrate versions of a school bus crash and its aftermath and their stories overlay and intersect with one another. Although each character has a very different voice, the book just oozes gloominess no matter who is speaking. Given the subject matter of the book, that's not entirely suprising; still, it's just dark on top of dark on top of darker. Also, many if not all of the characters are very difficult to like even once we understand them. I liked the movie better; it has feeling that the book lacks.
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Loved the way this was written. It's more like 4 short stories all in this one small town, everything revolving around a shared tragedy. Had to read it for college lit, but was pleasantly surprised.
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Whenever I read this book, I find myself wishing I'd read it before seeing the movie. No matter how hard I try, I find that I just can't shake those visuals, and I'd like to try to read the book on its own terms.

Having said that, I love both the book and the movie, for reasons I'm not sure I can explain. The movie was actually one of the first DVDs I ever bought, at a time when DVDs were still kind of magical, and I watched it backwards and forwards. I listened to the commentary tracks; I watched the documentaries. Nowadays, who has time for that kind of investment in a flimsy plastic disc?

But the book. Four different narrators, each distinct and fully realized. The back of the book describes it as a "morality play," but the book lacks the obviousness suggested by such a label. Morality, of course, is an issue in the book, but it's not presented in stark right-or-wrong terms. My judgements of each of the characters changes with each read. Is Mitchell Stephens a crusader or a lawyer? Is Nicholl courageous or naive? Is Billy capable of seeing the world clearly, or are his decisions invalidated by the grief which has destroyed him?

All in all, it's a lovely book, translated into an equally lovely movie. I can't recommend either highly enough, and I wish I could find the eloquence to explain why.
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This is one case where I thought the movie version surpassed the novel, perhaps because I saw the movie first and it moved me so deeply. But the novel, in its wrenching account of a tragic school bus accident in a small town and the changes it wreaks in the four point-of-view characters, is enthralling, and it succeeds in really letting us inside the characters’ heads in a way the movie could not do.
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A good book. I used to make my creative writing students read it and would always put it on any list of fiction a writer should read.
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I broke the rule when I read "The Sweet Hereafter." You know, the old rule of folks like me who love books and movies in equal measure: always read the book first because the suits in Hollywood have a way of mangling literature. It’s happened recently with "Les Miserables," "The Scarlet Letter" and, most horrifically, "A Prayer For Owen Meany" (which came to the screen as "Simon Birch").But "The Sweet Hereafter" was different for me. I’d heard so many good things about the movie that I couldn’t wait to see director Atom Egoyan’s vision of Russell Banks’ novel about a school bus accident and its shattering effect on the people in a small town. The movie did not disappoint. It was a great example of good film storytelling, revealing complex characters with a minimum of Hollywood gloss and formula. I was very moved by "The Sweet Hereafter" (the movie).So, when I came to "The Sweet Hereafter" (the book) several months after watching the movie, I had high expectations. Russell Banks did not disappoint, either. In fact, he goes the film one better (as all great books do) by delving into the heart and mind of a character the film pushes to one side: the driver of the school bus.The novel begins and ends with Dolores Driscoll, the forty-something woman who was behind the wheel of the school bus when it skidded off the road one winter morning and plunged into a reservoir. In the book, Dolores is a sympathetic character; we feel her overwhelming grief and guilt over the accident which killed 14 of the town’s children.Banks is smart to begin "The Sweet Hereafter" with Dolores’ voice. Not only does it orient us to the basic details of the accident, it also immediately polarizes our sympathies for the woman. As the town gradually comes to blame her for what happens, it is heartbreaking since (through the eyes of Dolores, at least) we know it was truly an accident, not negligence. By the end of the novel, Dolores has been almost completely ostracized and there is a heartbreaking scene at the town’s annual demolition derby that will crumble even the most jaded reader. The rest of the novel is like an overture building to this one powerful scene at the derby where Dolores feels the eyes of the town on her as she carries her crippled husband up into the grandstands. By the time Dolores has found her seat, there won’t be a dry eye in the house. (Interestingly enough, it’s also a scene which never made its way onto the screen.)Dolores is just one of four characters who, through their own voices, tell the story of the accident. There’s also Billy Ansel, a loving father of two who was following the school bus when it smashed through the guardrail. And Mitchell Stephens, the city lawyer who invades the town like "a heat-seeking missile" before the 14 bodies are even buried. And Nichole Burnell, the high school’s most popular girl who was paralyzed in the accident.Four distinct voices, four versions of the events—it’s like interviewing traffic accident witnesses who stood on four different corners. Each character brings along enough emotional baggage to keep a psychiatrist booked for years to come. As in the movie, the most compelling and chilling story belongs to Nichole whose secret is even more shattering than the bus accident itself.How these lives intersect and intertwine is part of Banks’ mastery. He’s been good before ("Rule of the Bone," "Cloudsplitter"), but here he is great, achieving a true peak in his career as a teller of stories which have a profound effect on the reader. "The Sweet Hereafter" (the movie) was so good because, I think, it had such a firm foundation: "The Sweet Hereafter" (the novel). No matter which medium you choose, I guarantee you won’t walk away from the story unmoved. "The Sweet Hereafter" haunts.
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