Kevin Brockmeier has written a wonderful novel, The Brief History of the Dead. The book was a pleasure to pick up and I lost myself in the idea that when we die, we go to an interim place, a city, that looks like the place we left. We stay there until all who knew us have died. It is not exactly like the world we left, and furthermore we know we have died and we experience an appreciation for life itself and the interconnectedness of us all.
In this book the city grows rapidly due to wars and a pandemic, a virus called “The Blinks”, an itchiness that begins behind the eyes. Then people start disappearing from the city as more and more die in the real world. All that is left in the city are those remembered by Laura Byrd, who is marooned in Antarctica fighting for her life. Laura has to move from her interior research station to a research station on the coast. Her trip across the ice is positively harrowing – a testament to the tenacity with which we fight to stay alive.
One scene with penguins was particularly poignant, especially after seeing the movie The March of the Penguins:
Most of them were carrying eggs on the flaps of their feet, gripping them beneath the soft rounded bald patches on the undersides of their guts, which insulated the eggs from the cold. The ones that didn’t have eggs were balancing egg-sized lumps of ice there, dead little worlds that they protected as avidly as though they were real.
Laura doesn’t know her struggles to survive are keeping alive the world of the dead.
Brockmeier paints some wonderful pictures with words: “Her skin threw off the dry chill of a metal serving tray left outside on a winter night”; Dogs “stood over sprinkler heads…lapping at the fans of water like puddles suspended in midair”; “The living carry us inside them like pearls.”
The book is a warning that we have the power to eliminate all life on this planet and that the One who made us could be deeply saddened if our free will took us down that road to desolation.
Brockmeier also posits the theory that alive we are composed of three parts: our physical body, our soul, and the spirit that is the cord that connects the two. When the spirit is cut our body dies, and our soul lives on as long as we are remembered. The Brief History of the Dead is a wonderful book that will fill your hours with introspection.