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The Sweet Hereafter

3.84  ·  Rating Details  ·  6,493 Ratings  ·  501 Reviews
In The Sweet Hereafter, Russell Banks tells a story that begins with a school bus accident. Using four different narrators, Banks creates a small-town morality play that addresses one of life's most agonizing questions: when the worst thing happens, who do you blame?
ebook, 272 pages
Published September 27th 2011 by Harper Perennial (first published September 1st 1991)
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Paul Bryant
Aug 29, 2013 Paul Bryant rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
Recipe for Russell Bank's Sweet Hereafter

Ingredients required

17 dead teenagers
2 living teenagers
1 bus
1 bus driver (female)
1 river
1 road
Five large scoops of ice and snow
1 small town
Approx 35 parents
Reporters (a handful will do)
2 lawyers
1 oz morality
10 oz sentimentality
1 box soapflakes
4 boxes Kleenex


Sprinkle the ice and snow on the road. Tilt the road 25 degrees, with the edge of the road close to the edge of the river (this is called the banks). Add the teenagers and the driver to the bus
K.D. Absolutely
Sep 23, 2012 K.D. Absolutely rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 501 Must Read Books (Modern Fiction)
When is lying acceptable? Or even an act of heroism? Banks answers: when it is for the common good.

Writing-wise, there is nothing special in this book. The prose is simple, readable and sometimes even boring. There are a few meaningful verses but none that can be gleamed as original or hits you really hard. However, what's lacking in verse is adequately augmented by the thought-provoking questions that this book opens to the reader and in the end, offers answers as well.

When is an accident an ac
Jan 13, 2013 Tfitoby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lit
A remarkable and remarkably simple piece of literature that spawned a remarkable movie.

Russell Banks, Russell Banks, Russell Banks. If I write his name enough it might conjure a complete sentence from my mind, as though his name alone might rub some of his magic off on me and I could explain this novel to you. Russell Banks. It's not working.

I just read Affliction which a truly incredible movie was adapted from, adapted so well that it seemed to make the novel a non-event for me, yet I knew tha
J. Trott
I first read Russell Banks because I found out that he wrote the books that two great movies are based on, "The Sweet Hereafter" and "Affliction." The first of these two is an exquisite movie.

In fact, and one doesn't often hear this, especially on Goodreads, but the movie is better than the book. In the movie, directed by Atom Egoyan, the story of a school bus in a upstate NY town going into the lake is dealt with in the aftermath. Most of the children of the town are dead, and lawyers show up,
Sep 02, 2007 Tory rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This one seemed to have a lot of potential. The idea was good. The story was… good. Or it could have been.

I hated the way it was written. I didn’t like this fellows style at all. None of the characters came off as especially likeable, or real, or endearing, or brave… or anything. There was nothing stand out of the four people in the town chosen to narrate. Their story was sad, something stand out in itself. And perhaps that was meant to be the meat, that was meant to be all that stood out. But
Dec 24, 2007 Joseph rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of the movie, and those who should be fans of the movie (by which I mean everyone)
Shelves: fiction, favorites
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 watche
Dec 20, 2012 Lylah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Newtown" (which as well as now being synonomous with a horrible tragedy, is also the name of a sleepy, quaint 300 year old New England town a few miles from where I went to high school) got me thinking about this book. I read it many years ago, but it affected me deeply at the time. After I saw the film (which is one of those rare adaptations that may almost eclipse the novel), I read the book and could not stop thinking about either for days. I had the book group I was running at the time read ...more
Nov 19, 2013 Jenny rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Huh. This book reminded me of the movie "Crash" --- it had that same feel of being a moving and at times heart squashing view of different people's lives and the way they come together to misunderstand each other. At the same time, it's very different than Crash because the central conflict or story is this bus accident and how people grapple with it.

The writing was good, and at times the words were profound and very insightful. On the whole, I liked the book and I'm glad I read it. I wouldn't
Connie Mayo
Nov 30, 2011 Connie Mayo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved the structure of this book as well as the writing.

The story is told by four different people who are in some way connected to the accident, and there are four parts or chapters, one for each, then a final chapter. What I thought was clever was that even though they are all talking in first person about the accident, the story ends up being chronological - the bus driver describing the morning of the accident up until it just starts to happen, the father who is in a car following the bus
Jan 03, 2014 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The goodreads blurb for this says: "Atom Egoyan's Oscar-nominated The Sweet Hereafter is a good movie, remarkably faithful to the spirit of Russell Banks's novel of the same name, but Banks's book is twice as good." It has been while since I read the book or saw the movie, but I'd say this assessment is kind of backwards. Banks's book is good, but the movie is a masterpiece. I should revisit both soon.
Jan 21, 2011 Ami rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 06, 2010 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-novels
Banks's writing is easy to read. His prose is conversational, and any first person narrator he inhabits sounds real. I believe the voices he uses. I believe them as people. Whether I believe the facts of any of the plots in his books is another question, but one that is rich and interesting to ponder.

Still, the two books of his I've read have broken my heart. I'm not running out to the store to buy the rest of his catalog. I'm old and haggard and jaded enough as it is.

The Sweet Hereafter gives u
Jul 09, 2007 K rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I meant to pick up "The Reading Group" for a light change of pace after "Nickel and Dimed," but I had to take Naava to the pediatrician who often discusses literary fiction with me (he reads a lot of the same books I do, but in Hebrew translation) and I was embarrassed to come in with a fluff book. What can I tell you; we all indulge our vanity where we can. Meanwhile, after a 1.5 hour wait in the waiting room I'm too into the book to put it down now. "The Reading Group" will have to wait.

Apr 21, 2014 Joanie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
In his attempt to write a philosophical novel, Russell Banks sacrifices character development, plot and engaging writing. In his attempt to tell the story of people coping with a shared tragedy, he sacrifices philosophy. The resulting disaster is a barely readable story told by four different people, often with the characters overlapping and repeating events to the reader - sometimes even lifting dialogues word for word from previous chapters - instead of moving the story forward. Perhaps if Ban ...more
Jul 07, 2014 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Small town tragedy told through four first-person accounts (a survivor, a cause (?), a victim, and a lawyer), each of which muddies the waters by misinterpreting the intents and natures of the other, by mucking up details, and by generally tossing about fistfuls of ambiguity. The characters are clear, though more could probably be done to separate their diction. Banks wrestles well with forms of grief, with the need for blame, with the secret lives we all live, and in the end with the way a comm ...more
Evie Hemphill
Mar 13, 2013 Evie Hemphill rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Couldn't put it down--an exploration of grief and how different individuals and the impacted community respond to and attempt to make sense of a terrible tragedy. Loved the way Banks tells it from four connected perspectives.
Andrew Smith
Nov 24, 2015 Andrew Smith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book taught me more about how to write than almost any other book I've read. The last chapter is a remarkable tour de force.
Russell Bittner
May 30, 2014 Russell Bittner rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
(I should say right up front that what I’ve just read is an “Advance Reading Copy” of The Sweet Hereafter and not whatever eventually made it into bookstores. Did I miss anything? I don’t know, even if the same HarperCollins-published edition is supposedly three pages longer here at Goodreads.)

“Nothing. Except that his tongue came out and licked dry lips. Then I recognized it: I’ve seen it a hundred times, but it still surprises and scares me. It’s the opaque black-glass look of a man who rece
Casey Lansinger
Apr 30, 2013 Casey Lansinger rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
All I can offer to say about this book is that, as far as the subject of grief goes, Banks hits the nail on the head. It was hard to read for me, because grief is all too real in my life. Banks approaches the subject with such raw and beautiful honesty, that I found myself in tears for his characters; not necessarily because their stories were tragic, though they were beyond belief, but because I saw my grief in theirs and at times, it was just too much to take. The quotes that especially took m ...more
Jul 03, 2010 Buggy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book blew me away with its beautiful writing, many layers of story and the credible tension that Russell Banks was able to create out of such a simple premise, in fact it almost reads like a mystery. Banks writes in such a way that he opens up the small town of Sam Dent and deposits you right in the middle of it leaving you feeling as if you personally know all the characters or might have once lived there yourself. It is also an interesting character study and from my experience realistic ...more
Jan 04, 2010 Sheila rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although it sounds like a romance novel, this book leaves you with a sore feeling of despair as you experience the anguish, loneliness, anger, and healing of a town that loses most of its children in a horrible bus accident. The author gives us four citizens' first person accounts of, among other struggling emotions, what survivor guilt really feels like.

I was drawn to reading this book after seeing the movie a few years ago. Although the movie was true to the story in action, the motives of the
Connie  Kuntz
Dec 18, 2009 Connie Kuntz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those who enjoy philosophy, morality issues, contemplating aftermath
Recommended to Connie by: Richard Vargas
I'm no expert on the clinical definitions of either depression or sadness, but I have been depressed and, of course, I have been sad. I have never actually thought about the difference between the two until this book and now I think I have some (not much, but some) clarity between the two.

In my experience, depression has hope attached to it. There seems to be beginnings, middles, ends, peaks, valleys, spikes, etc., to it. It can be softened by exercise, good food, literature, art, fresh air, et
Jul 26, 2014 Wendy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I couldn't have picked a better time to be reading this book. After finding a cyclist lying in the road, a victim of a hit and run this week, I couldn't help but compare the real life drama I experienced to the one in the book. The story is told through the eyes of several of the main characters, each having a chapter to talk about the story as it unfolds. I really liked the idea of telling the story of a tragedy through differing perspectives. The main gist of the story is one of a school bus t ...more
Mar 05, 2011 Rico rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A strangely haunting and affecting book that lingered with me long after the last page. The story of a town in the aftermath of a tragedy that takes most of their children (as did the Piper to Hamlin) seen through the eyes of an outsider, an insurance adjuster in town to assign responsibility for the calamity.

The story felt sweet and true and tragic. Full of that familiar feeling of wanting to hold someone, somewhere accountable for something that God in her infinite wisdom should not have let h
Mar 26, 2009 Andrew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Russell Banks explores the nature of a small town tragedy and its aftermath in The Sweet Hereafter.

Accidents like the one in Banks’ novel are only a pindrop in the daily news we hear, but through his shifting perspectives the reader is left knee-deep in the small town of Sam Dent and what has happened to it. As is stated early on, “A town that loses its children loses its meaning.” Each voice notes, in his or her own way, the immensity of the scenery along with the goings-on and emotions. It on
Tom Hoffman
I had to read this for school. It was fine I guess. Not much to say about it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 26, 2015 Tim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I was not completely blown away by this, as I was by "Affliction" and "Continental Drift", but it was hardly a disappointment. At first I stayed away because of its gloomy subject matter, but it turned out to be a wonderfully written and engrossing story. Like the two novels mentioned it is a brilliant piece of American realism, with believable characters, emotions, events, and settings. This time Banks applies a different narrative strategy - he uses 4 narrators, and we are given different, but ...more
Mar 16, 2015 Mom rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A terrible school bus accident in a small town, 14 children killed, many seriously injured . What is the aftermath?

Russell Banks tells the story from 4 perspectives: Delores, the bus driver; Billy Ansel, a widower, who loses his only children in the crash; Mr. Stephens, the big city lawyer who plans to bring a negligence suit against the city and the state; and teenaged Nichole, a cheerleader who is paralyzed in the accident. Russell Banks writes with restraint and incredible empathy such that w
Barbara Bryant
If you've seen a description of this book here, you already know the story, but I will avoid most spoilers. I could have and probably should have given this 4 stars (I am so stingy), but I am confounded by the fact that I happened to see the movie years ago before I knew there was a book, and I really loved the movie, which has a slightly different flavor, given the interpretation by the director, Atom Egoyan, and the actors, including the lovely young Sarah Polley and veteran Ian Holm. The rath ...more
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Russell Banks is a member of the International Parliament of Writers and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His work has been translated into twenty languages and has received numerous international prizes and awards. He has written fiction, and more recently, non-fiction, with Dreaming up America. His main works include the novels Continental Drift, Rule of the Bone, Cloudsplit ...more
More about Russell Banks...

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“I’ve got nothing against outsiders, per se, you understand. It’s just that you have to love a town before you can live in it right, and you have to live in it before you can love it right. Otherwise, you’re a parasite of sorts.” 2 likes
“Our obsession with each other was like the isolation that comes with great pain; it was like extreme sadness. Without our children we might have never discovered our differences, which is what has made our abiding love for each other possible.” 2 likes
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