An addict searches for the missing virtual traces of several women—including his dead wife—in this gritty sci-fi thriller, set in an unpleasantly plausible near-future dystopia.
Ten years ago, a terrorist nuked Pittsburgh, and poet John Dominic Blaxton has never gotten over the death of his wife, Theresa, and their unborn child. Now, he compulsively visits the Archive, a virtual recreation of Pittsburgh, both in his role as an insurance investigator of cold cases and as a grieving husband replaying encounters with Theresa, taking illegal drugs to enhance his memories. An arrest puts Dominic in the clutches of an unscrupulous therapist and a wealthy man who want him to find the digital remains of a woman who’s apparently being erased from the Archive. The title is an apt reference to a speech from Macbeth, which the doomed Scottish king delivers on learning of the death of his wife; it describes life as a “walking shadow,” which might refer to both the virtual Archive and the thin, grim substance of Dominic’s daily existence. It’s a testament to Sweterlitsch’s skill that he makes the reader feel Dominic’s grief for his wife and unborn daughter so powerfully; it still saturates him even a decade later, leaving him an utterly broken man, unable to get on with his life in any productive way. But Dominic’s destroyed mental state means that he’s not someone you really enjoy spending this much time with, although the conclusion offers a hint of redemption.
Vividly and beautifully written but extraordinarily bleak.