Ever wonder what happens after we die? It’s a heavy question, and one that I choose not to think about all too often for the simple reason that we can never really know the answer until we die. Maybe we are just gone, maybe our spirits live on, or maybe the devout believers in God will at last reach that final destination: Heaven. In A Brief History of the Dead, Kevin Brockmeier takes a stab at the afterlife. He creates a city, The City, where the dead exist only for as long as the living remember them. It isn’t Heaven; it isn’t Hell; it’s just a place where the dead get a second chance at living their lives the way they wished they would have the first go round, for however brief a time they are allotted.
All at once, The City’s once a bustling seems to be rapidly dwindling to almost nothing as a deadly virus sweeps the Earth. As people are eliminated, they appear by the thousands only to vanish a short time later. Meanwhile, back on Earth, Wildlife specialist Laura Byrd, isolated in Antarctica conducting research for Coca-Cola, manages to escape the clutch of the virus. However, she finds herself in an equally perilous situation, severed from the World, and in a desperate battle to survive the elements while maintaining whatever tenuous hope she has at an eventual rescue.
I’ve put off writing this review for a long time, just because I didn’t know exactly what to say about it. So I’ll keep it short and focus on the things I do know.
First, I found this book to be intriguing from the very beginning, as people in the City struggled to figure out the meaning for their existence. Through alternating chapters switching the focus between Laura and the City, Brockmeier challenged readers to figure out how the two would ultimately be connected. Then, about halfway to three quarters of the way though, the book starts to lose some of its initial appeal. One chapter towards the end – the chapter where Laura follows some “marbles” on a wild goose chase, seemed as though the author completely lost his way, engaging in superfluous rambling in lieu of meaningful content. Maybe he had a case of writer’s block, and thought he would write without thinking until he came up with an ending? The book would have been much stronger in my opinion had that chapter been eliminated all-together. Finally, the ending seemed sort of anticlimactic. I’m not really sure how I would have changed it, but I just wanted something… I don’t know… more?
But, I’ve always loved a good story about being lost in the wilderness and relying on one’s wit and survival instincts to make it through. Hatchet? Yes Please. The Call of the Wild? Count me in! The Cay? Take me to that Island! The Life of Pi? You get the point… So when this story turned out half to be about the dead and the other half about fighting to survive in Antarctica, I was pleasantly surprised.
All in all, this book gave me a lot to think about, and I would recommend it. Plus, it was way more interesting (and less heated) than engaging in an actual debate about what happens when we die.
Final Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.