Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Brief History of the Dead

I grabbed Kevin Brockmeier's The Brief History of the Dead off my husband's night stand before a flight to Texas because it was slim enough to fit in my bag. I had just started the latest Jane Smiley, but it was too thick. I didn't really know anything about it other than it was about some kind of afterlife waiting room. I got a bit worried when I read that Brockmeier was a McSweeney, as this is really more my husband's cup of tea than mine. But, what a great book! I had it finished by the time I hit Austin.

Okay, here's my question: why wouldn't Coke stop this book from being published? I'm not going to give away any big secrets--not that I have a bunch of readers who would be disappointed by spoilers--but Coke is not presented in the best light in this book. And, this less-than-best-light seems to fit just fine. I was just really surprised that the book wasn't squashed or squished or buried under antarctic snows.

But, given that it wasn't, I really liked how the stories are woven together with the dropped hints about connections. I was also surprisingly affected by the way in which relationships supersede all else in the city--how all the dross falls away from the Byrd's relationship and how Minny connects with Luka and so on--and in Laura's own life as it hurtles to its end. Brockmeier's descriptive touch is also solid. I could feel the cold, see the colors, and hear the heartbeat.

I also appreciated the subtle way in which we're placed in the future. It is a place similar to our own in so many ways (e.g., crappy business meet and greets; egg sandwiches; and, of course, Coke), but the world has just enough techno changes to make it clear we're in the "not now." This is the way the future is coming at us--not with flying cars and jet packs but with BlackBerries, corporate mergers, and bioengineered waters--so it all seemed very real.

If I had any criticism, it is that the last section of the book, as Laura fades away, goes on a bit too long. I had too many, "I got it, already," moments that I didn't earlier on. So, it didn't end as strongly as it should have. Still, a real surprise that makes me rethink my next visit to Atlanta.

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