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The Afterlife of Billy Fingers: How My…

The Afterlife of Billy Fingers: How My Bad-Boy Brother Proved to Me…

by Annie Kagan

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Thank you for the ARC Goodreads Giveaway! I could not put this book down! I wanted to know what happened next! What did Billy say?? I really appreciated the book, for it was the closest to explaining the 'after life' as I myself feel how it 'works'?!? I would recommend it for anyone who has questions or is interested in the possibilities of an after life..! ( )
  Robin_Miller_Cresci | Jul 6, 2016 |
Annie Kagan has written one of the best Afterlife books I've read. But that's a qualified plaudit.

At core, this is the story of a younger sibling, Ms. Kagan, saddled, by life, with a ne'er-do-well alcoholic older brother, the eponymous, and deceased (but not entirely gone), Billy Fingers. The latter is an organized-crime kind of name and guy. He can't get off the booze. He creates all kinds of drama and havoc in his loved ones' lives. Ms. Kegan's story, then, is that of a younger sister finding a way to forgive her older brother. And Ms. Kagan really handles that part of the story well. Three-stars worth of "well," in fact.

But now to the matter of published accounts of Afterlife experiences.

We’re all familiar with books on the subject, right? We’ve all clucked our tongues at books of this kind, shelved and sheltered there in Barnes & Noble’s New Age section. We’ve all seen these books' authors addressing medium-sized, sartorially eccentric crowds, soft music playing in the background (perhaps some celtic Enya, some yonic Yanni, or maybe only the lonely susurration of subdued-yet-also-strangely-insistent panpipery): authorial men with their shaved heads and pale faces and brown corduroy pants and sensible Timberland dress shoes with clownishly rounded toes; men who evade perfectly reasonable questions of fact by touching their index fingers’ tips to the bottoms of their lips, in attitudes of feigned supplication, saying: I’m not sure if I can tell you about that; let me ask my spirit guide. And the women authors, these women of arcane erudition seated, ridiculously and indecorously, behind folding tables, elephantine women wearing knitted caftans and gauzy aquarelle scarves tied loosely about the neck, imperious women who brook neither dissent nor fashion advice, and who take irritating attitudes of soaring superiority over any and all other spiritual experiences that aren't their own. All of which is to say that, like you, I have my prejudices about Life After Death experiences and NDEs and the people who publish stories about them.

In fact, the two biggest problems I have with the genre are setting and veridicality.

Setting: All or most Afterlife stories occur in realms that are decontextualized to the point of absurdity. There are talks of radiant skies in outer space, of lapis lazuli lakes of pure glitter-sparkle splish-splash, of shining reticular ions, of rainbows, of guardian angels soaring on the backs of butterflies over rolling meadows, and the listener thinks, How exactly do I back my way out of this conversation? So what am I trying to tell you? Nothing. Everything. Sometimes a wind blows and you and I float along in light. I find terror and you find love; the difference, in other words, isn’t out there but in here. I’m pointing at my heart. Simply put: Describing the world of the dead to the living must be like performing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony via symbolic logic for a wombat. Ridiculous. Hopelessly quixotic. Even still, some authors perform the symphony better than others, and Ms. Kagan is down right Deutsche Grammophon-esque here.

Then there’s the problem of “veridicality.” This is a highly specialized term. It refers to an Afterlife account that can be proved true, as opposed to one that is mere fantasy or hallucination. As F.W.H. Myers put it (somewhat recursively) in his renowned work The Human Personality And Its Survival Of Bodily Death, “The only valid evidence ... for veridicality depends on a coincidence with some external event.” Thus, we may label as “veridical” an Afterlife experience whose subject, upon returning to life, is able to describe, say, a shoe on a high hospital ledge that he or she had floated up past on his or her way to the great beyond, which high ledge, upon later inspection by third party, turns out to indeed have sitting upon it -- exactly where and as described -- the shoe. The shoe is proof of veridicality. Another example: an upward-floating NDE’ing spirit, pausing for a sec in an ER’s ceiling’s far corner, sees a doctor working feverishly to revive that spirit’s former and mortal body, and sees that same doctor, up to her eyeballs in a triage frenzy, absentmindedly and hurriedly place a pen or watch or scalpel on the crash-cart’s second lower shelf, which absentmindedly placed item is in fact there exactly as described upon later, post-revival inspection by disinterested third party(-ies). These veridical factual foundations may seem somewhat flimsy -- tenuous matters indeed or perhaps -- but they constitute the Afterlife Account’s breath and bread. Faith is the assurance of hope, the evidence of things unseen. But payment for the book must be in legal tender.

Fortunately, Ms. Kagan skirts all matters of veridicality by embracing the, as it were, Ganesh in this genre's living room: That is, she frames her story in a Creative Writing critique group. The author, while writing amateur fiction for crowd correction, is more or less psychically tackled by her dearly (or dastardlily) departed sibling's loquacious shade, who then uses Ms. Kagan as a "channel" to tell us his story. In other words, Ms. Kagan gives the skeptical reader a very easy "veridicality" out, which thus allows that reader to simply read what is, in fact, a semi-moving account of a two siblings learning to finally get along.

But don't get me wrong: I do believe in life after death. I just don't believe a lot of what I read about it. But barring any direct experience, reading about it's all I've got to go on. ( )
  evamat72 | Mar 31, 2016 |
If you have an open mind, this is a fascinating book. If not, you will probably put it down after the forward.

The core of the book is a journal of messages and "insights" into the after-life as told to the author by her deceased brother. There are also many other events that happen to the author and others that are instigated or related to what her brother is telling her. As someone who is anti-religion (as opposed to atheist), I found the story very interesting and very appealing.

There are parts of the book that seem to run on and become a bit redundant. I attribute that to her brother trying to put into words things and events that are fundamentally beyond limited human comprehension. It would be like trying to describe what you would see if you were traveling at the speed of light.

The only real problem I have is the concept of things being "allowed", which implies some authority. It seems to me that the relationship between the author and her brother is be the main reason that he is able to communicate with her, not because some authority allowed it. I would even go so far as to assert that the reason her experience is so unique is the lack of spiritual connection we have with each other and the world around us. ( )
  grandpahobo | Mar 22, 2015 |
interesting; author's brother talks to her after his death, explaining what is happening to him
  cynthiasgarden | Jul 26, 2014 |
This was an intriguing and different kind of book about the afterlife. Let me say straight up--I do believe in life after death. I also believe that religion has nothing to do with what the afterlife really is, but that God (in some form or another) is real.

That being said, I found this story of Billy's afterlife both intriguing and enlightening. His experiences in life and death were fascinating, and nothing he said, as written down by his sister in this book, struck me as impossible or improbable, based on what feels right and true to me. Perhaps that is not the impression this story will have on everyone, but one of the things Billy says to his sister is that the afterlife is different for everyone--it is what they need it to be, until they are ready to move on to something different.

This book is going to stick with me. ( )
  puttocklibrary | Oct 18, 2013 |
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Billy's ongoing after-death communications take his sister on an unprecedented journey into the bliss and wonder of life beyond death --

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