One snowy day, a school bus plunges through a guard rail in the small and poor town of Sam Dent, New York. Almost all of the children die. Half of the town’s children are gone. Many of the survivors are permanently injured. The Sweet Hereafter tells the story of Sam Dent as the town comes to grips — or doesn’t — with the aftermath of the accident.
The story is told through the voices of a series of characters: Delores Driscoll, the driver of the bus; Billy Ansel, a widowed VietNam vet who loses his twin children; Mitchell Stephens, esq., a negligence lawyer drawn to the town in hope of finding a lawsuit there; Nichole Burnell, a grade eight student who survived the accident but is now wheelchair bound; and finally, Delores Driscoll once again.
Banks does the telling-through-different-voices bit extremely well. It’s quite excellent, in fact. Each of the above-listed characters speaks in a different manner from the others. This quality is somewhat rare, I think — I find that usually when authors attempt this, they tend to end up with a handful of characters who, for better or worse, all seem to speak and think in the same way. (This happens on screen, too; think of Gilmore Girls. Ever notice how the entire town spoke like Lorelai Gilmore? Exactly.) But Banks has managed to come up with four characters who not only behave distinctly, but act and speak distinctly as well. It’s superbly done.