Thursday, June 9, 2016
The Brief History of Death by Kevin Brockmeier
Published 2006 by Pantheon Books
Source: this one is mine
The City is inhabited by those who have departed Earth but are still remembered by the living. They will reside in this afterlife until they are completely forgotten. But the City is shrinking, and the residents clearing out. Some of the holdouts, like Luka Sims, who produces the City’s only newspaper, are wondering what exactly is going on. Others, like Coleman Kinzler, believe it is the beginning of the end. Meanwhile, Laura Byrd is trapped in an Antarctic research station, her supplies are running low, her radio finds only static, and the power is failing. With little choice, Laura sets out across the ice to look for help, but time is running out.
Like Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven, in The Brief History of The Dead a virus has raced around the earth, killing off its victims in just a matter of hours. And, like Mandel, Brockmeier spends very little time focusing on that. Instead we are left dealing with what happens afterward and those that are left.
In The Brief History of The Dead, this means a massive increase in the population of The City, a kind of holding place for those who have died but are still remembered by the living. But, as the virus rapidly takes its toll, the population of The City disappears as fast as it arrived. Those left begin to discover something strange - most of them knew Laura Byrd in some way. Why?
Meanwhile, when the two people Byrd was stationed with fail to return from their mission and the power fails at the station, Byrd strikes out to find a stronger radio, food, and human contact. Along her way, she has a lot of time to think. About her family, about incidents in her life both large and small, about the people who crossed her life.
It's not often you find a book with two disparate story lines that are equally strong. Laura's journey is perilous and tense but also filled with an indictment of corporate America and greed, as well as the small moments of life. Which is the real tie between the two story lines. In The City, those who are "in limbo" carry on much as they did in life but with the opportunity to ponder their choices in life and the chance to make some amends before they move on.
The final 30 pages dragged a bit for me until very near the end. Not so much Brockmeier's problem as mine. I was so hoping for a certain outcome and expected a build up to that. Brockmeier had other ideas and, with that in mind, he ties up the story just the way it should be done.
This one's going straight into The Big Guy's hands. I can't wait to hear what he thinks about it.