Kirkus Reviews QR Code
HOW HIGH WE GO IN THE DARK by Sequoia Nagamatsu


by Sequoia Nagamatsu

Pub Date: Jan. 18th, 2022
ISBN: 978-0-06-307264-0
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

What happens to humanity when death radically outpaces life?

Scientists digging in Siberia find the body of a girl who seems to be a mix of Homo sapien and Neanderthal while also possessing genetic traits that look like starfish or octopus. She’s dressed in clothes remarkable not only for their fine needlework, but also for the fact that they’re decorated with shells from the Mediterranean. Unearthing this girl releases a virus that destroys human organs. From this strange, terrifying beginning the narrative moves to the City of Laughter, an amusement park where children infected with the virus can enjoy one last, fun-filled day before riding a roller coaster designed to kill them. Nagamatsu’s characters inhabit societies so overwhelmed by death that funerary services of various kinds dominate the economy and in which the past is disappearing while it’s impossible to imagine a future. Many of the chapters in this novel were first published as short stories. Cobbling these stories together makes a novel-length book, but it doesn’t necessarily make a satisfying novel. The different ways in which people deal with grief and survival accumulate without revealing new insights. The chapter in which a man contemplating suicide finds connection in a virtual world is an echo of the chapter about a man who repairs robotic pets who speak in the voices of the dead. A chapter in which a forensic pathologist falls in love with a man who has donated his body for research is virtually the same as the chapter in which a funerary artist who makes ice sculptures from liquified remains falls in love with a customer. And while there are characters who recur, a lot of these connections feel superimposed for the sake of crafting a novel. The final chapter—but for a brief coda—circles back to the beginning in a way that’s thrilling for a moment. Then Nagamatsu lays bare the mystery of the opening chapter in a way that can only be rewarding for hardcore devotees of the ancient astronaut school of ufology or readers for whom this concept is entirely new.

Ambitious, bleak, and not fully realized.