Imagine a more benign Brave New World yoked with a short love story from a New Yorker back issue.
Originally published as a digital novel, this collaboration of novelist Adrian (The Great Night, 2011, etc.) and former McSweeney’s publisher Horowitz is an unwieldy hybrid of domestic romance and science fiction speculating on the prospect of immortality through decapitation. (And no, you didn’t misread that.) Jane Cotton, a pediatric surgeon at a New York hospital, is having enough trouble coping with the death of her husband, Jim, a chaplain working at the same hospital. What makes matters worse is finding out that his corpse is missing its head, which has been cryogenically preserved by an enigmatic corporation called Polaris. Through an appropriately icy company spokesman named Brian, who apologizes to Jane for her “perceived loss,” Jane finds out that Jim’s frozen cranium is being preserved and stored for reattachment and restoration at some undetermined date in the distant future. The chapters concerning Jane’s frantic quest for more information, legal redress, and (she hopes) Jim’s head alternate for the most part with chapters that seem to be set in that aforementioned future in which Jim is in a painful struggle of his own as he adjusts to a new physical form while trying to retain whatever memories he has of his previous life. A disembodied voice named Alice tries to get Jim 2.0 to adjust to a world where money, among other things, “hasn’t existed for a while.” It’s possible to interpret Adrian and Horowitz’s gimmick as a scenario for a hypothetical breakthrough in biotechnology, along with its potential ramifications. It’s also possible to interpret this new world as an old-school metaphor for reincarnation and its own hypothetical discontents. But until the book’s latter two sections, which seem to move backward instead of forward in time, you don’t care enough about any of the novel’s characters to even begin considering its ideas.
People do a lot of weeping in this book. Maybe that’s meant to compensate for its lack of emotional depth.