The Life Before Her Eyes Paperback – Nov 11 2002
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From Library Journal
This third novel by Michigan author Kasischke (Suspicious River) opens with a shocking scene from a Columbine-like school massacre. Diana and her best friend are confronted by a schoolmate killer, but only Diana is spared. Fast-forward 20 years: Diana, now middle-aged and still beautiful, is a housewife and artist living in the same idyllic university town with a handsome professor-husband and a young daughter. She has seemingly repressed her memory of the event as well as her survivor's guilt, but her perfect world and her grip on reality are both starting to crack. These scenes are imbued with that sense of eerie apprehension found in a good horror flick. Woven through the book is a flashback narrative of Diana's sunny but empty-headed adolescent days. The novel plays teenage Diana's youthful illusions of immortality and beauty against the shifting, uneasy reality of middle age. Kasischke, also a published poet, writes prose that is dreamy and lyrical. This is one book you won't want to put down. Highly recommended for all popular fiction collections.
- Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ., Harrisonburg, VA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Disturbing fiction (Suspicious River 1996, and White Bird in a Blizzard, 1999) is fast becoming prizewinning poet Kasischke's hallmark. Her third novel opens with a haunting scene set in the girls' washroom of a high school. Diana is goofing in front of the mirror with her best friend, Maureen, "when they hear the first dot-dot-dot of automatic gunfire. It sounds phony and far away." They are eventually confronted by the gunman, a fellow classmate whom "they'd never even really noticed." He asks them a terrible question, "Which one of you girls should I kill?" Kasischke then juxtaposes scenes from 17-year-old Diana's life with scenes from her apparent future as a 40-year-old wife and mother. In the final chapter, however, the author ambushes the reader with a shocking revelation about Diana's fate. Whether the novel is viewed as a cheap narrative trick (there will be plenty of readers crying foul) or an imaginative exploration, there's no denying that Kasischke is a fearless writer. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The Life Before Her Eyes begins with two best friends, Diana and Maureen, as they are primping in the girls' restroom at their high school. Suddenly, one of their classmates comes in and points a loaded gun straight at them. "Which one of you should I kill?" he asks....
At that point, the story takes off around 25 years into the future. Diana is a happily married artist and mother of 8-year-old Emma. She is the typical minivan-driving soccer mom. Everything is going well, but then there begins these subtle changes -- changes almost of a ghostly nature that impact Diana's life in terrifying ways. And interspersed between the paragraphs of Diana's future are excerpts from Diana's past with her friend, Maureen, before the shooting.
I was completely mesmerized with this book. I felt that something was building up, some sort of surprise or twist to the story, but I could quite figure out what it would be. And by novel's end, I was so out of breath with the anticipation! Laura Kasischke has written an amazing novel. She has a great gift of storytelling that is unshakeable. I loved every minute and every word, and I look forward to reading more by this author.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
To all that are unsure of the ending. My professor knows the author, and Kasischke even came to a couple of her lectures and spoke. Diana was actually shot in the girls room at the same time Maureen was. Diana's entire "future" never happened. Notice how her future was very close to the "perfect" life: a pet, a great husband, children, a big house in a safe community, etc. It was one big slow motion that took place between the gunshot and Diana's actual death in the girls room. The publisher of Kasischke's novel wanted a happy ending where one of the main characters survived. This forced Kasischke to be very ambiguous with the final chapter.
I liked the way the author wrote this book - it is engaging and thought provoking. It takes some getting used to, the switching between 40 yr old Diana and Teen Diana. After a while, if your really paying attention, you start to notice that things in 40 yr old Diana's life are mirroring things in Teen Diana's life, in a way that shouldn't be. For example: her neighbor's act, look and are named the same as a young girl (Sandy Ellsworth) who went with her to highschool but in 40 yr old Diana's world they are young teenagers and she is confused (she at first had thought her neighbors were older, childless, stuffy). Then other things start to show something is wrong: The story she sends to school with her daughter, her cat showing up again, the headaches, etc...
At least a 1/4 of the way through the book I was thinking, okay so 40 yr old Diana has repressed this memory of the highschool shooter in the bathroom and her friend. But then 1/2-3/4 of the way through the book I changed my mind - something else was going on (being a big Stephen King fan it seemed obvious to me at this point). It appeared to me at this point that Diana had not only repressed that shooting memory but was possibly also making up a lot of stuff about her current life. I was wondering if her husband or daughter were even real or was she trying to not face the reality of being 40 plus the shooting? It was a bit confusing to say the least but I stuck with it because it was still holding my interest.
Then the ending: what in the world? I thought it over and then I thought that maybe what was going on was that Diana had been shot and the whole book was the dream of a coma patient. So then I came on here, read through the reviews and found one that confirmed my theory about the shooting part. One of the reviewers speaks of some information given by the author of the book that both girls are shot in the bathroom. The story is supposedly what happens as Diana looks in the mirror, contemplates her life, the possible future she might have had all in the few seconds before she is shot. After knowing this and reading the ending I think what happens is that Diana is shot, but not dead. She is taken to a hospital, is in a coma. Hears things, possibly sees things and these are incorporated into this dream/story sequence. The ending though makes me think that she does die or is taken off of life support and then dies. I think it is left ambiguous like that because while I think this is all interesting I don't think that this is the point of the book.
I think the point of the book is summed up in a sentence towards the end: "That's the miracle....the real miracle...all the goodness all our lives..." I think the author is talking about how in our culture some people are constantly worrying about evil and eradicating the presence of evil and totally forgetting about the blessing of goodness in their lives. The simple miracle of being alive, eating and breathing and going about our routine lives. The author points out in the story how the evil was present in the girls world this whole time (in the form of Michael Patrick) but how in the world were they supposed to know this? They couldn't know it, and as Sister Beatrice in the book says "Often there's no explanation for evil and no way to locate its source." So I think the book is pointing out how we should be thankful for what we have - these simple moments, even the ones we think are boring because we never know when or where something might happen to take that miracle of life away from us and leave us with only an imagined future - imagined by others or imagined by ourselves in those seconds before we die.