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The Brief History of the Dead Paperback – January 9, 2007
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“Thrilling. . . . Inventive. . . . Deftly told. . . . Brockmeier does a wonderful job of conjuring up the dead.” –The Washington Post Book World “Brilliant. . . . Brockmeier’s characters are wonderful, and his images are dazzling.”–Detroit Free Press“Extraordinary. . . . Breathtaking. . . . A gracefully written story that blends fantasy, philosophical speculation, adventure and crystalline moments of compassion.”–Milwaukee Journal Sentinel“Striking. . . . Brave. . . . Deliciously disquieting. . . . The Brief History of the Dead will stay alive in the memories of readers for years to come.”–The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
About the Author
In addition to his most recent work, A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip, KEVIN BROCKMEIER is the author of the novels The Illumination, The Brief History of the Dead, and The Truth About Celia; the story collections Things That Fall from the Sky and The View from the Seventh Layer; and the children’s novels City of Names and Grooves: A Kind of Mystery. His work has been translated into seventeen languages. He has published his stories in such venues as The New Yorker, The Georgia Review, McSweeney’s, Zoetrope, Tin House, The Oxford American, The Best American Short Stories, The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, and New Stories from the South. He has recieved the Borders Original Voices Award, three O. Henry Awards (one, a first prize), the PEN USA Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and an NEA Grant. In 2007, he was named one of Granta magazine’s Best Young American Novelists He teaches frequently at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and he lives in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he was raised.
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Perhaps because the themes at its core--life, death, memory--are so big, they seem ultimately to get away from the author. The novel starts along two parallel tracks, telling the story of the city where the remembered dead carry on an existence much like that of the living, and the story of Laura Byrd, an environmental biologist working for the Coca-Cola Company at a research station in Antarctica (which by now has been privatized). One great advantage of being in the frozen continent is that you are largely, though perhaps not entirely, immune from developments in the rest of the world. This fact is crucial to the convergence of the two stories, but is also complicated by the fact that the rationale for the Antarctica station's existence in the first place seems far-fetched. Indeed, the whole Coca-Cola angle, which is crucial to the story, verges on the farcical. And yet this is a much more serious novel than that, so the divergence is striking. The coming-together of the two stories works at first, but then it doesn't, almost as if the author was not sure how to capture the logical extension of the very interesting premise on which his novel is based.
Some of Brockmeier's descriptions fell flat, but I would still say that the novel is generally well written and interesting, even if I ultimately found it somewhat unsatisfying. It did get me thinking: Given the fact that I come from a generally long-lived family, perhaps an afterlife limbo such as the one proposed in this novel wouldn't be such a bad thing, at least until my last descendant to have personally known me takes up residence in the city. I'm not sure where I'd go at that point. When there is no more memory of me, I guess there is no more me. Unless, of course, there is a different sort of after-afterlife for those who are retained in the memory of the remembered dead. If not, well, I'd never know, would I?
I saved this book to read in Antarctica. It seemed a safer bet to read it in the locale of that half of the novel rather than wait to find out whether or not I can sit on the porch with a novel after I'm dead, even if people remember me.
The brief stories of each living-dead character as well as the living Laura Byrd are very well done. The author has an excellent ability to present each person as their own unique believable individual. The central theme to the book is about the people. I imagine many readers are going to be upset at how Mr. Brockmeier ended his work. The book is more an attempt at fleshing out different characters personalities and challenging the reader to see other people's viewpoints than it is an adventure with a satisfying conclusion. I guess it could be called an artsy-fartsy work. Mr. Brockmeier's short novel is very well written with a decidedly melancholy tone. It's thought-provoking but a little of a downer.