Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Sweet Hereafter” as Want to Read:
The Sweet Hereafter
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Sweet Hereafter

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  8,743 ratings  ·  685 reviews
When fourteen children from the small town of Sam Dent are lost in a tragic accident, its citizens are confronted with one of life’s most difficult and disturbing questions: When the worst happens, whom do you blame, and how do you cope? Masterfully written, it is a large-hearted novel that brings to life a cast of unforgettable small-town characters and illuminates the my ...more
416 pages
Published September 25th 1997 (first published 1991)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Sweet Hereafter, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
This question contains spoilers... (view spoiler)
This answer contains spoilers… (view spoiler)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.85  · 
Rating details
 ·  8,743 ratings  ·  685 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Sweet Hereafter
Paul Bryant
Nov 11, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels
Recipe for Russell Bank's Sweet Hereafter

Ingredients required

17 dead teenagers and little kids
2 living teenagers
1 bus
1 bus driver (female)
1 river
1 road
Twenty-five large scoops of ice and snow
Four bags of bad weather (can be found at most supermarkets)
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 o
K.D. Absolutely
May 04, 2011 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
Oct 29, 2010 rated it liked it
The conclusion gives us an incredibly powerful image to end this, an almost impossible tale to tell. The awful tragedy in itself is not committed to the page, but the aftereffects are clear, the emotions are not hinted at but fully disclosed. I don't know if I was very much convinced that there are four DISTINCT characters, since they are so alike. I feel like a great bulk of the book was not told, not actually given to us the way it was supposed to: like evading a grand central question. Yeah, ...more
Jan 11, 2013 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
Sep 21, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I've been meaning to read Russell Banks for a very long time. Affliction had been on my Goodreads to-read list since I joined in 2008. As I had snubbed it time and time again, I ultimately removed it from my list.
Then, after recently listening to Nancy Pearl's That Stack of Books podcast, my interest was renewed with her enthusiasm for The Sweet Hereafter. I loved that movie. I still can't help but hear Sarah Polley's haunting version of the Tragically Hip's Courage whenever it's brought up. So,
Dec 21, 2007 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
J. Trott
Nov 05, 2008 rated it liked it
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 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
Andrew Smith
May 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Apr 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels-english
This is a terribly moving, insightful, and masterfully written novel, the best of the several I have read by Banks -- who is a superb writer.
Dec 20, 2012 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
George K. Ilsley
Nov 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This is my first sweet taste of the Russell Banks experience. Well, it's a solid and evocative exposure that made this reader feel like he had spent a long time in the town getting to know the people. Insightful perspectives from the viewpoint of several characters, all presented in the form of smooth, seemingly effortless writing. Brilliant. If all his novels are like this I can see what the fuss is about.
4.5 stars.
Nov 19, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Apr 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
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 a 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. ...more
Harry Collier IV
My new pick for worst book I've ever read!
Sorry Jim Morrison's Adventures in the Afterlife you have been dethroned!
Sep 17, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Honestly just felt kinda meh about this one? None of the characters felt particularly real to me, and the plot wasn’t really there? Disappointing
Jan 12, 2010 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
Jul 08, 2007 rated it really liked it
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.

Ron Christiansen
Sam Dent is a small town where not much happen. This changes in one horrific event. Banks explores how or if we can ascribe blame and if truth can be ascertained. But it is not a philosophical novel. Instead, the exploration plays out through four different viewpoints: the bus driver who is directly involved in the tragedy, a father who loses two children, a lawyer from a big-time firm in New York who believes there are never accidents, and a young middle school girl who was injured in the "acci ...more
Jane Upshall
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 18, 2014 rated it did not like it
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
Anne Caverhill
Aug 28, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This book was as gratifying to read now as it was 30 years ago when I first picked it up. On its face, it’s about an unspeakable tragedy, a small misfit of a town losing 14 children in a bus accident. That incident is pervasive and the overall theme of the chapters, yet the hardcore stories are the various characters from the town, including the brilliant 14 year old wielding powerful control over her new life in a wheel chair.
The writing will make you gasp with its sharp simplicity of pain and
Evie Hemphill
Mar 11, 2013 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. ...more
Poornima Vijayan
Apr 22, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2021
A bus accident that causes the death of 14 children in a small town of Sam Dent and the narratives of the various people in the town forms the entire book. What Russell Banks gets right is the voice of a 50 (ish) year old woman. He gets maybe a 35 year old man's right too. And where he doesn't quite is that of a 14 year old girl. I felt that he was unable to shake off his sane, clear narrative and get fully into the shoes of a young girl. So despite the many attempted voices, it felt like one. ...more
Jan 15, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2011
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 01, 2010 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
Mar 15, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
At first I did not like this book, only because it is sort of misleading in the beginning. Despite the crash, the book seemed innocent enough until the perspective changes and suddenly sexual affairs, drugs, and rape are discussed without any warning. Once you realize that this book, even though it's central focus is on a crash and how it affects a town, covers a broad selection of topics you will start to enjoy it. The characters were very interesting and made the story. Also I'm always a sucke ...more
Regine O
Mar 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This short little book took me over 2 weeks to finish - I savoured it to the last page and made sure I could read it undisturbed and without any interruptions.

The writing is stellar, the characters are flawlessly developed and multifaceted, and I really enjoyed the story being broken up into different narratives.

It's one of the saddest books I've ever read, but also one of the most beautiful ones.
Aug 02, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I had to read this for a writing class. The book was bad, the class was bad, I tried to watch the movie but it was too dull to get through. There just wasn't anything in the story worth reading about. ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Goodreads Librari...: Cover Update 2 9 Nov 21, 2021 03:50PM  
Goodreads Librari...: Change description 2 10 Mar 30, 2018 05:28AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Open Society and Its Enemies - Volume One: The Spell of Plato
  • The Ledger and the Chain: How Domestic Slave Traders Shaped America
  • The Last Enchantments
  • Rats Saw God
  • The Ice Storm
  • White People
  • Riot and Remembrance: The Tulsa Race War and Its Legacy
  • The Dilbert Principle: A Cubicle's-Eye View of Bosses, Meetings, Management Fads & Other Workplace Afflictions
  • About Schmidt (Schmidt, #1)
  • Passing On
  • Ο σταθμάρχης Φαλλμεράυερ
  • Blue Eyes, Black Hair
  • Jurgen  (The Biography of Manuel, #7)
  • A Civil Action
  • Forever, Erma
  • Citadelle
  • Smoke & Blue in the face
  • Fated
See similar books…
See top shelves…
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

News & Interviews

For dedicated horror fans, every season is Halloween season. October is a fine month, it just doesn’t come around often enough.   Most scholars...
72 likes · 6 comments
“It's a way of living with tragedy, I guess, to claim after it happens that you saw it coming, as if somehow you had already made the necessary adjustments beforehand.” 4 likes
“Mourning can be very selfish. When someone you love has died, you tend to recall best those few moments and incidents that helped clarify your sense, not of the person who has died, but of your own self.” 4 likes
More quotes…