Book: The Brief History of the Dead – Author: Kevin Brockmeier
Description from Amazon:
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. Kevin Brockmeier alternates these two storylines to create a lyrical and haunting story about love, loss and the power of memory.
I really wanted to like this book. The concept sounded so interesting! “What if there were a middle world, between living and fully dead, where you exist until you are forgotten?” There were so many directions that the author could have gone with a book like that! I loved the first few chapters. It was really interesting to see the middle world set up and the writing was so well done that all the characters and places seemed very real. It made me want to know more.
The characters themselves were fairly interesting. They were very well written and you were curious about what would happen to them. I liked the way that the author changed perspectives in the middle world chapters, though I would have liked it even better if he had chosen just a few of the characters and stayed with them for the whole book, rather than having a completely new person for each chapter. The other chapters, which only focus on Laura, had a nice, flowing story to them, whereas the middle world chapters got pretty choppy.
The real problem with the book, though, is that is goes nowhere. I finished and my first thought was “Wait, that’s it? What was the point of that?” The book does give you a new concept of afterlife to play with, but that’s pretty much it. There’s not really any excitement or real interest besides trying to figure out what happened in the living world to cause everyone to start disappearing from the middle world, but even that you figure out pretty early on.
And as for the ending…well, there IS no ending. Which may actually have been on purpose. It does harken back to the original question: What happens after we die? Or in this case, after we are forgotten. I guess it’s poetic, but it just ended up feeling unfinished to me. Even if the author had just included a brief glimpse of the next world, it would have at least given the book a sense of closure.
It does leave you with one question, though. If you knew what happens in the afterlife, would you still be willing to try so hard to avoid it? During the Laura chapters, I did catch myself a few times willing her to just give up, which I would normally never do when reading a book (and definitely would never do in real life). So the book does a good job at making you think about how you would live your life if you truly knew what would happen after it was over.
All in all, this is not a bad book. It’s very well written and the idea behind it is certainly interesting, but it could have been fleshed out a bit better and could use an ending. I’d recommend it if you are curious, just don’t expect too much.
I’ll be honest, I’ve never read a book like this before, so I don’t know what to suggest here. Try this Goodreads list!