Joanna DeAngelis is dying of cancer when Stephanie Gangi’s novel begins, but where Gangi takes Joanna as the novel progresses, is far from expected. Joanna lies dying with tubes, bruises, medicine haze, her faithful poodle Tom by her side, two distraught adult daughters and a quiet obsession with her phone and her ex-boyfriend Ned. In the last moments of her life, Johanna is more focused on the online persona of Ned and his new, very famous girlfriend, rather than her legacy and her daughters Anna and Laney. Anna and Laney are very different, but sisters all the same, and the roles that the two take in the story are interesting and ever changing. The Next is not a story of dying woman, but rather the story of how what happens before death, can often impact what happens after death and not only for the deceased.
Joanna and Ned were in love. An older woman, with a successful editing career had found herself enamored with a younger man. Ned was a struggling writer/adjunct professor, yet the relationship worked until Ned walked out on Joanna in her time of need. Focused on Ned until her last breath, with her last words being his name spoken to her daughter Laney, Joanna finds herself after death, still very active, very present and very ready for revenge on her ex. The transcendental way that author Stephanie Gangi describes not only the afterlife, but also the ghostly form, emotion and power of Joanna is impressive. Joanna is dead, yet still a force to be reckoned with as she seeks to destroy Ned, while maintaining a close eye on her family, her life and all that never was. I did not like Joanna in life or in death and found it difficult to root for a vengeful ghost hell bent on destroying someone that wronged her while simultaneously destroying the daughters that she had ignored at the end. Laney and Anna struggle with their mother’s death in their own ways and as the women deal with the aftermath of Joanna’s death and ultimately her ghost, the two come into their own, but not without a struggle in the process.
It is hard to pick a particular point of the novel that sticks as so many of the characters have the specter of Joanna hanging over their lives, in more ways than one. Joanna does ultimately find her redemption and her peace, as do her daughters, but there was a large section of the novel that focused so forcefully on the otherworldly hate of Joanna, that the message of redemption, love and the passage of time was almost lost. The Next is an interesting, psychological read that will provide readers with an intense story that is unlike any other.
Lauren Cannavino is a graduate student, freelance writer, wine lover, and avid reader.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by St. Martin’s Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.