The Brief History of the Dead, by Kevin Brockmeier

7 Mar

Yes, I am actually posting.  No, I didn’t exactly read a book.  This is the review of an audiobook I listened to this weekend, narrated by Richard Poe.

For some reason, I haven’t been in the mood to sit down and read a book.  I’ve been focused on a lot of transitions in my life, and I’ve also been writing.   This is embarrassing for me to admit, but since I don’t want to give up on the Blook Bog, I have to be honest about it.  I think this is the longest time I’ve gone without reading a book since grad school!

Anyway, I’m really glad I didn’t try to read this book.  The Brief History of the Dead has been a book that I’ve wanted to read for years now; I’m glad I can finally cross it off my list.  It took a while to get into this novel, but it did have its high points.

Imagine a book that combines The Road with The Lovely Bones.  That provides some of the framework for Brockmeier’s concept.  There are two worlds with two stories that slowly come together.  As the people of the world pass on, they find themselves in The City, a world that closely resembles the one they left behind.  Married couples are re-united and best friends can meet up in a bar to have a drink in the afterlife.  Occasionally, residents vanish and no one knows what happens to them.  They have a theory that The City holds the dead as long as they are remembered by people living on Earth.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Laura Byrd, researcher for the Coca-Cola Corporation, struggles for survival in Antarctica.  She and her two teammates lost contact with the base, and when the other two set out to find help, they never return.  Through amazing endurance, Laura journeys across the frozen land, and begins to suspect that she’s the only person left on Earth.

“How many people was any one human being likely to remember? A thousand? Maybe if you were cursed with a particularly slipshod memory. So then—ten thousand?…

He was thinking about himself, his own life, and by extension, he was thinking about Laura. She was the common element, after all, the link or what have you. After all the discussion he had heard in the city, that much was obvious.”

This book poses a lot of topics that would make a good discussion.  The author’s look at life and death is very creative.  As a story, however, it fell flat for me.  There isn’t much dialogue, but lots of long descriptions.  There is a lot of symbolism, and I won’t pretend I understood it all.  For me, the symbolism got in the way of getting to know characters and staying engaged in the story.
I found Laura’s struggle to stay alive to be the most engrossing part of the book.  She faces freezing weather, deep caverns, and plague.  I can’t imagine the loneliness she experienced!
Overall, I’m going to go with three stars in my evaluation of this book.  If you’ve read it, I’d love to have a discussion about it; there’s a lot to talk about.
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