Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE BRIEF HISTORY OF THE DEAD by Kevin Brockmeier

THE BRIEF HISTORY OF THE DEAD

By Kevin Brockmeier

Pub Date: Feb. 14th, 2006
ISBN: 0-375-42369-9
Publisher: Pantheon

What if those enjoying the afterlife require for their continuing existence being remembered by Earthlings?

And then a pandemic virus called “The Blinks” kills off everyone but an isolated researcher in Antarctica who is forced by an accident to make two heroic treks to save herself—and her dear departed, though she doesn’t know that. In alternating chapters, Brockmeier (Things That Fall from the Sky, 2002, etc.) describes life after death as a retro city where people don’t change and tells the harrowing tale of plucky, 30-something Laura Byrd. Since the afterlife, as depicted here, is never believable (the denizens show little stress about their temporary status), the stakes of Laura’s sledding aren’t what Brockmeier hopes. Set in a future riven by planetary wars, global heating and the extinction of other mammals, the book wants to be an allegory of saving interdependence, what Emerson called “each and all,” but not even the story’s halves mesh. The highly detailed polar chapters seem composed for their own cinematic sake. And the newly united dead—Laura’s parents, an old lover, an executive she worked for, a religious fanatic, people casually known—are too briefly sketched and allowed too little freedom to elicit much engagement. In this speculative fiction, perhaps the most interesting element to wonder about is how Brockmeier will get away with blaming Coca-Cola for causing the pandemic.

After a charming first chapter that imagines highly individual “crossings” to the other side, a novelistic virus called “The Flicks” debilitates the rest.