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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Brief History of the Dead - Kevin Brockmeier

When you die, are you really dead? Can you keep on living through memory? Kevin Brockmeier's January release is built solely on these questions and many more, delivering a thought-provoking, deep and powerful novel unlike any other.

The Brief History of the Dead revolves around Laura Byrd, a wildlife specialist employed by the Coca-Cola Corporation that is sent out to Antarctica to find uses for the slowly melting ice for the popular soft drink. However, a slight snag in the plan occurs - the world is wiped out by a lethal virus while she's freezing her buns off (now that is some bad luck for ya), and her accompanying colleagues Joyce and Puckett, in a helpful sense, abandon her and their station to seek help across the icy depths. Hold up - it gets better.

Every other chapter deals with another world entirely - one housing those who have passed from the Earth. But it isn't the heaven-or-hell afterlife the majority of the population had envisioned - it is yet another city that expands on its own to house the bloating census. Confused? Be patient.

While these stories seem to have little to do with each other, Brockmeier gingerly intertwines them about half way through the book, making two worlds a sense. Turns out this parallel city the dead folks are shacking up in is powered by the memories of those on Earth. And, since a lethal virus rarely shows mercy to its victims, Laura winds up being the last remaining person on Earth. Only her memories and the people retained in them remain in the city. But what if Laura dies? What will happen to the city and its occupants then?

You'll have to read it to find out. But even still, Brockmeier's mind-bending writing skill is so interesting and twisted, one will have a hard time putting this 252-page novel down. And his intriguing insight into the afterlife and this supposed memory-driven plane may give even the most religious of people something to contemplate.

But be forewarned: You may never look at another Coca-Cola can the same way again.

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