The Sweet Hereafter by Russell Banks
Through our life experiences, we all have a different story or perception of an event that we envision to be the truth. The question is, how do we know what is the truth? In the novel by Russell Banks, "The Sweet Hereafter" tells a handful of stories from different points of view providing contrasting angles and meanings to the same event. As these stories interlock with each other and intertwine together the accounts of how each of these people cope with this tragedy, Banks helps readers explore the complexities of grief. In "Books of The Times; Small-Town Life After a Huge Calamity", Michiko Kakutani feels Banks draws on the school bus accident as a catalyst for enlightening the lives of the town's people. "It's as though he has cast a large stone into a quiet pond, then minutely charted the shape and size of the ripples sent out in successive waves." Told in a fluid stream-of-collective-consciousness the four parallel first-person narrations shows the reality and vulnerability behind the cruel twist of fate. The shifting of these tales backward and forward in time fits into the mosaic perfectly in conveying the meaning across to the readers.
Taking place in the wintertime a representative of death, the story beginning with Dolores Driscoll is told in a simple and straightforward way. Dolores describes herself as "the kind of person who always follows the manual. No shortcuts." (4). Kakutani also describes her as "the perky, well-meaning bus driver." As we follow Driscoll, we catch a glimpse into the lives of some of the townspeople in her eyes. We read into her life as if we are living in it, watching and knowing her innermost thoughts. We follow behind just like Billy Ansel, "the only eyewitness" (37) of the accident. And as we follow Billy into his life, we truly feel deeply for him. Billy has lost a sense of love as death has faced him in the eyes once too many. Billy deals with his pain by turning to alcohol abuse, he cannot deal with his mourning, "Sometimes it's not as if they have died so much as that I myself have died and become a ghost." (43). From Dolores and Billy, the central theme is slowly revealed.
The central character in which the story takes off upon is Mitchell Stephens. He is drawn into this case by his own anger. He has his own sense of suffering and confusion toward his own daughter. Stephens is torn by his urge to save her and his fear that he can't possibly do so. He recalls the flashback of his little girl as a toddler at a near death experience and him as her father while singing to her, held her life in his own hands prepared to perform an emergency tracheotomy. And in that way, Stephens' own experience...