Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Brief History of the Dead

It's a blog! Here's a chance for interested readers to join our discussion of books at the Fairfax Library. The Fairfax Library Book Discussion Group meets on the first Thursday of each month at the Fairfax library to discuss books and have fun.

Last Thursday we met to discuss The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier. The overall consensus of the group was "so-so".

The first part of the book was the best with a wonderful description of wandering souls (with their old bodies) in a new world of the dead. The stories of the individual crossings into the netherworld are beautiful. This city looks, sounds and smells a lot like NYC but with borders that suddenly appear to accomodate the newly dead and shrink when they mysteriously disappear. The recently departed believe that they're in this limbo-like city because someone still alive on Earth holds them in their memory.

Brockmeier throws out lots of big ideas and deep thoughts in his description of the city but doesn't follow through on most of them.

Then he introduces Laura Byrd, a researcher hired by the Coca-Cola company to investigate Antartica for the possibility of using the rapidly melting ice there for their beverages. Laura begins some interesting adventures in the snow-strewn tundra when she is left alone in her station and supplies begin to run low and things begin to break. Laura's struggle to stay alive should be more gripping but her chapters begin to wear thin.

While Laura is struggling for survival, the remaining citizens of the city realize that they all have a connection with her. Laura is the last remaining human on earth and it is only her memories of them that sustain the city.

But the recently departed are curiously incurious about what comes next for them. Where is the faith of these people? Why do they continue to eat? Why do they continue to work? What happens when Laura finally succumbs to her hostile environment? What is the purpose of memory? Of human connections? Why does the car accident victim appear whole and the cancer victim appear healthy in the city, but the blind man remains blind?

The book throws enough big ideas at you that there is plenty to discuss for a book group, but in the end it lacked the depth that would have made it a great book.

In December, we'll be discussing The Places In Between by Rory Stewart. See you then!