Browsing for your next great read you may soon discover two books with the same alluring title: Life After Life. One is by Kate Atkinson (from Reagan Arthur/Little, Brown, in April), the other by Jill McCorkle (Algonquin, this month). What's unusual is not only that books with the same name would be released within two months of each other, but also that both happen to be wonderful. They're set to share top billing as the American Booksellers Association's Indie Next Pick in April.
This title-sharing is not ideal for the two publishers' publicity departments - the last thing they want is consumer confusion. (Unless you happen to be promoting Ruta Sepetys, whose young adult novel called Between Shades of Gray, about a Lithuanian girl during the Stalin-led genocide, was on shelves when E.L. James's kinky Fifty Shades of Grey mania hit. Memorable mistakes must have been made.)
It was, alas, too late to change the name of either Life After Life - not that the publishers were eager to do so. Little, Brown's publisher, Reagan Arthur, explained that they found out about McCorkle's book title in October, and "in addition to liking the title as much as I'm sure Algonquin and Jill McCorkle do, we couldn't move our publication date because of many plans already in place, including the near-simultaneous publication in the U.K. and Canada, where it will have that title."
Algonquin Publicity Director Kelly Bowen says her shop found out about the rival book after they'd already launched their enthusiastic marketing campaign - which included a series of quirky postcards to booksellers and reviewers that appeared to be from the fictional residents of Pine Haven Estates, the retirement home that's the setting for the novel. Bowen adds, "I've never heard of this situation happening before, so it will be really interesting to see how consumers react."
Books have often shared titles - Forever is a popular one - but rarely both with such similar release times and of the same caliber. Two came close: Susan Choi came out with a thriller called A Person of Interest in January 2008, three months after mystery writer Theresa Schwegel's A Person of Interest was released.
The Life After Life books, it should be said, are wildly different, though the title truly does fit both stories. McCorkle's is centered on the residents in the aforementioned retirement home - where their lives have only tenuous connections to all that came before - and interactions between them, the staff and a seriously dysfunctional family living next door. It's thoughtful and moving, and left me in tears at the end. Atkinson's is more ambitious, in a way: It's set during the World Wars in England, and involves the main character's brushes with death. The story repeatedly rewinds, in a sense, to give her another chance at life. It's gripping and is a sure Man Booker Prize finalist.
Confused or can't decide? Buy them both.