Novel: The Brief History of the Dead, by Kevin Brockmeier
Back of BookBlurb: “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.”
Clear Protagonist(s): Yes. Brockmeier develops Laura immediately but also throughout the novel, so I felt that although I knew her near the beginning I also found out more about her through the other characters. I liked this technique. He showed us rather than told us. I can’t stress enough that showing rather than telling is the key not only to great character development, but also great story telling. Leave as little to dialogue as you can, unless your characters are funny and/or interesting.
Clear Antagonist(s): Yes and no. The antagonist in this novel is not clearly defined as a person(s), because, well, it wasn’t person(s). The Antagonist was a virus and the “elements”. This works for this novel and novels in general because you have the time for character development. Also, with the stakes being so high (life or death – the highest) weather/non-human antagonists work. Brockmeier did it well.
Plot: With respect to pacing, I would sayThe Brief History of the Dead moves a rate of just a little bit faster than a Sunday stroll. I never felt it lag, however, because Brockmeier weaves the novel with enough questions (that he doesn’t leave hanging at the end) so that you want to keep reading. You want to find out what’s happening and why. While it wasn’t entirely predictable, the great “twist”, if you could call it that, is given up about half way through the book. It’s okay. It works.
Why I read it: The title for one. It drew me in. I also liked the premise that there could be ties between the living and the dead just based on memory. If you think about it, a lot of our lives live in our memories. A lot of what we are, of “us”, lives in our memories. It’s weirdly romantic that while peoples’ bodies may give out or be too banged up to continue on, that our memories mean something more than just being moving pictures that morph based on our perspectives.
Read it or not?: Read it in the winter. It’s a winter book.