The Brief History of the Dead: A Novel
by Kevin Brockmeier
Thanks (Now More Than Ever) for the Memories
A review by Anna Godbersen
Kevin Brockmeier's The Brief History of the Dead is perhaps the most densely romantic novel I have ever read to also feature a deadly airborne virus and a satire of marketing gimmicks. Brockmeier begins in a lovely, magical vein, conjuring a city of the recently deceased who live more or less like the living (they work, they eat), except that they can't reproduce, and after sixty years or so they disappear. As Luka Sims, former newspaperman, self-appointed record keeper of the city, theorizes: "The living carry us inside them like pearls. We survive only as long as they remember us." The city is a peaceful place, characterized by this poignantly tenuous lease on existence, although as of late the dead seem to be disappearing with an ominous swiftness. There is also a science fiction-like, end times plot at work here: One Laura Byrd, a Coca-Cola employee, still alive in the slightly futuristic world of permanent war and multinational corporations, is marooned in Antarctica after a "research expedition" (read: publicity stunt) goes bad. She is all alone and very cold, although she has supplies and a tremendous will to live. And her memory, of course.
The idea of the city threatens, at times, to become mawkish (all that memory and desire and melancholy and regret), but it is rescued by the thoroughness and weirdness of its conceit. The Brief History imagines this city in remarkable detail, from the minor threads between living and dead, to the routes its inhabitants take on their idle walks, to the strange physics of its end. Brockmeier has not only written an allegory of our connection to those we have lost, but he has shot it through with the darkest fears of our times.
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