Despite her somewhat over-the-top premise, Gangi, a poet and corporate communications strategist, tells a powerful story of family, love, grief and loyalty. The relationship between the accommodating Laney and the older, bossy pediatric resident Anna is a classic love-hate sisters story, as they survive their parents' divorce and confront the death of their mother and "the exhausting mix of drama and tedium that is caregiving." They even argue over the music at the wake, held at Joanna's favorite bar. Anna berates Laney: "This is a memorial service, with, like, grown-ups, not Irving Plaza in 1982. Pardon me, I left Gang of Four off the playlist." The men in Gangi's world barely register. Joanna's ex-husband is a constantly apologizing dip, and Ned is mostly just an empty head of TV hair. Only Joanna's Tom is sympathetic and reliable: "the best dog, who moved me up and out and forward with purpose into each blue morning or indigo evening for years."
As the thrill of humbling Ned wanes, ghost Joanna begins to reflect on her life with renewed pride in her daughters and the lifelong lessons she left them with: "Rise and shine. Always make the bed. Look both ways. Don't smoke after twenty-five. Three drinks maximum. Have fun but stay safe. Make your own money. Don't have a boss--be a boss. Dance, in the car, in the supermarket, on graves. Barefoot whenever possible." There's not much funny about cancer, divorce and a broken heart, but The Next is an entertaining ghost story. Gangi gives it enough heft, however, to be a thoughtful meditation as well, on how to be a good mother, daughter, sister and lover. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Shelf Talker: A contemporary ghost story of vengeance is also a delightful and incisive portrait of a cancer-stricken woman and her two daughters striving for independence.