The Brief History of the Dead
By Kevin Brockmeier
Read July 2021
The first chapter, or a version of it, was published as a short story in the New Yorker in2003. Indeed, the first chapter is highly engaging and sets the stage for what follows. It introduces a basic premise: after death, a person “passes over” and finds themselves in The City populated by other people who have died. The person remains resident in The City until there is no one alive that remembers them. Thus, people can often reside in The City for decades. They don’t age during this period not do they have new children but they may develop new relationships and they certainly need to find a place to live and to work so they can provide for their material needs while in The City. This chapter also provides an indication of timing—sometime in the not-so-distant future.
The novel alternates chapters between what’s happening in The City and with a story of (living) Laura Byrd. Laura is one of three people Coca-Cola has sent to Antarctica to study some things as they progress development of a new product line made with water from the ice of Antarctica. After the communication system with the US stops functioning, two of the team leave to get help from a research station a few days walk from their station. Laura waits for them to return. When they don’t return, she decides to take off to find them. These chapters include an engaging adventure story as she deals with the harsh climate.
The City readily grows to accommodate all newly deceased people if the rate of departures is lower than the rate of arrivals. Famine, war, and disease can radically alter the death rate on earth driving a need for more room in the City. In this story, a pandemic is playing out on Earth and it is impacting The City in a number of ways. This reader will leave the connection of the two sets of chapters and the rest of the plot for other readers to learn themselves.
This reader found this speculative fiction to be engaging and generally well done. There are some sections that dragged a bit for this reader and further exploration of some of the characters would have been nice. The editing decisions seemed a little uneven at times. Overall, however, this reader was quite appreciative of the inclusion of the Coca-Cola employee who finds himself in The City and how he views the situation in which he found himself. This reader does wonder if the Coca-Cola company read this book and if they just hoped that few people would read it. This reader doesn’t harbor any bad views of that company after reading this book and anticipates the author just needed to pick some company whose product line might work for his plot devices.
In summary, this reader found this to be an extremely interesting read. Reading it during the current Covid-19 pandemic provides the reader with a different mindset coming into the book than they might otherwise have. For this reader it certainly made the book quite relevant.
This reader will likely investigate other books by this author.