Speechless... that's a good description of my state during my reading of Kevin Brockmeier's The Brief History of the Dead. Brockmeier gives us Coca-Cola as unintentional doom-bringer. The mega-corp manages to spring a lethal virus on humanity, killing off the entire planet in no time. Their attempts to spin the catastrophe bring a dark, cynical humor into the mix.
Brockmeier paints a very imaginitive picture of the city of the dead, a limbo-like place where souls go after death and stay until everyone who remembers them is dead. As the virus sweeps the planet, the population of the city explodes. But as the casualties mount, and the people left to remember the dead become fewer and fewer, the city of the dead depopulates rapidly. One woman, Antarctic explorer Laura Byrd, hangs on as the lone survivor of the plague. Her memories are all that keep the city of the dead alive.
Since passionate affairs and relationships form between these dead people, you can imagine the deep depression that sets in as loved ones and entire communities disappear. The tone is heavy, and I found myself reflecting the deflated mood as I read the story.
Not surprisingly, questions about ultimate origins and destinations began to surface for me. Where are these dead people going when they disappear from limbo? And what afterlife-related fate awaits Laura as the last, and therefore unremembered, person on Earth? What does it say that the forgettable disappear before the memorable? Is Brockmeier commenting on the Beatitudes, or teachings that "the last shall be first, and the first last"? Do all disappeared souls end up in the same place? Brockmeier left me with plenty of questions to ponder.
The ending is far from surprising, but not completely predictable either. I found myself wanting just a bit more clarity, though I appreciate Brockmeier letting me fill in some of the blanks myself.
In all, a moody, passion-filled, stressful, grey-toned, worthwhile read.