Peterson (Snow-Blind, 2018) offers a pair of stories about characters coming to terms with death.
In “A Sight to See,” the shorter of this book’s two narratives, Adam is one of four astronauts on a one-way flight to Mars. When something collides with the spaceship, his three companions die, and Adam’s injury renders him blind. As the ship continues its course to the red planet, he sits alone in darkness and periodically communicates with Mission Control. He accepted the mission knowing that he would never again see his wife, Penny, but as he awaits what he believes is an imminent demise, he debates whether he made the right decision. In “The Boatman,” Charles is a professional guide for people who wish to die. He works at a company that constructs “death dreams,” in which people can choose the specific manner of their passing. He keeps his job a secret from his father, who wouldn’t approve; Charles’ mother committed suicide a decade earlier. But his dad isn’t well himself, and he may soon decide how he wants to pass on—with or without Charles’ guidance. Peterson’s death-centered stories, while occasionally gloomy, are still filled with hope. The author shows how Adam, for instance, doesn’t fear his demise, which he seems to view as a journey’s end; although his longing for Penny is sorrowful, he achieves a sense of closure before the tale concludes. Similarly, “death dreams” allow characters to experience happiness or heroism before they die. At times, the author’s lyrical prose cushions the bleaker concepts; for example, Adam believes that the Earth’s first living cell is continually reborn in each living thing: “We are an unbroken echo of all life before us,” he muses, “locked in a closed-loop system of death and resurrection.” Overall, Peterson’s stories promote an appreciation of life—although some readers may still shed tears.
A profound, dramatic, and emotionally resonant book.