What Da Cover Says: With warmth and a touch of the sardonic, Jeff Chon’s stories in this volume (the follow-up to his critically acclaimed debut Hashtag Good Guy With a Gun) deal with how we navigate the fallout of what came before—and the ways we’re then destined to navigate the fallout of those subsequent actions: disaffected Goth teens sneer their way through a Christian Fundamentalist rally where a mound of “Satanic” LPs are set ablaze in response to the hospitalization of one of their classmates; a young teacher returns to his hometown to reckon with the suicide of his friend, who was recently exposed as a necrophiliac, unable to shake the inevitability of all those desecrated lives; a local comic store sponsors a “Draw the Prophet Muhammed” contest, aided and abetted by a right-wing shock jock and a local biker gang. This Is the Afterlife is a study in the recursive nature of fate, how the end of one action’s lifespan leads to the birth of another, and how the most unexpected and bizarre twists in our lives are inevitable, even when they’re undeserved.
What I Says: This is one dark and brooding collection of stories, intricately weaving together characters and timelines to give the reader an insight into the lives of those trying to find their place in the world as they deal with bullying, racism, depression and war. Chon writes with care and a gentle humour at times, the characters feel out of sync to the world as they narrate their bit, and this makes you care for them much more than is proper…the high school reunion where the main character meets their awful bullies of the past broke my heart, there are so many people in the world that have/will go through this and Chon has captured this moment perfectly on the page.
My favourite story here was Draw the Prophet Muhammed, the interaction between the characters was fascinating, Jeff and James were such good characters I really wished I was able to see what they drew. The burning of the Heavy Metal LPs was also a good’un it made me realise I had forgotten that there was a band called Cinderella…so I’ve been listening to them ever since. The final story is the most surreal of the bunch, I really liked the internal monologue as the main character interacted with their family, such skilled writing. Even though there is a lot of dark and disturbing content it was the mother taking her son trick or treating and sharing the throw-away comments that the speaker doesn’t consider racist and the outcome of this that shocked me most.
All these stories are strong and they will affect you and you’ll be surprised by that. This collection showcases just how good a writer Chon is, and I highly recommend this. One I’ll be reading again as I’m sure I’ve missed many clever links between the stories.