Regarding ‘Afterlife’ by Stephen King



Last fall we had to read a piece and present it to my Short Story literature class. I decided on Steven King’s Afterlife after having read/heard it while searching for interviews of him online. If you aren’t able to purchase a copy of the Tin House issue featuring the story, you can hear it here on YouTube. Personally, I prefer to hear Stevie read it. He just adds a nice aspect to the characters, and how we can relate to the situation.

Afterlife is about this bloke, William Andrews, who was a banker at Goldman Sachs. It starts with him dying and the transition into . . . well the afterlife. Stevie describes it, at least Andrews’, afterlife as this hallway with a door at the end. He goes through the door at the end and meets Isaac Harris. Their discussion leads to Harris revealing this is a causeway of sorts between life and whatever comes after. There’s two doors Andrews can choose from, one to go back and start his life over again and the other into the beyond. Andrews wonders if he’s been here many times before, as Harris said, how has he not remembered? Harris explains those “hey, I’ve been here before!” moments are dejavu. In the end Andrews chooses to take the door back into his life and have a do over.

I gave you full warning of spoilers, so don’t be mad, but honestly, I feel like the process Andrews goes through to deciding he wants to take a do over is infinitely more interesting than the result (much like my feelings to Game of Thrones). Andrews and Harris go through a banter of whose past is darker, who did worse things. What gives the story its golden sheen is how difficult it is for Andrews to wrap his mind over the fact that even if he does choose to go back and start over, it won’t change a thing. All the things he regrets he could do nothing about, in light of knowing the exact way of avoiding it. I found that fact to resonate to me and probably other readers too. If given the option, most of us probably would choose to return and start over our life with the smallest hope of changing something.

Isn’t that admirable of us? Despite Harris’ insistence of that futile choice, we cling to the possibility of making life better; we want to keep living. “Moving on” means taking a step toward the mysterious, the unknowable by mortals and living. I would like to see a character in some other story take the other door instead. I know Stevie didn’t want to take the story in that direction, turning more into fantasy, but as a writer I would love a story in which a human, even a dead one, decided to take the leap and venture into the unknown.

Afterlife definitely challenged readers to think about what they would do if they were in Andrews’ situation. Stevie managed in a short time to tug at the strings of our mortality and morality, forcing us to question whether or not we could go on with all the mistakes we made in life. It’s worth a read, or listen, if you’re in the mood for a quick engaging story. When you’re finished, I ask: “what would you do?”


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