Akhirnya’s CBR #47-48: A Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier and The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan

A Brief History of the Dead (400p. large print)

I picked this up based on Carolyn’s excellent review.

The concept is fantastic.  When people die, their spirits go to an in-between realm, where they carry on with an afterlife that is much like the real-world.  They don’t age or change, but they can form new relationships and friendships until their ‘final’ death.  When no one living on earth is left to remember them, then they disappear to… wherever.  It’s not clear where they go next, they just go somewhere.

Suddenly, the realm of the dead starts to get a lot more crowded and spirits are realizing that something is not okay in the real world.  Then, just as quickly, the majority of the dead disappear, leaving the city deserted.  This makes sense – less people alive, less folks to remember the dead.  Shell-shocked ‘survivors’ eventually regroup.  While trying to figure out what is going on, they realize they share a similar connection to one person in the land of the living.  The novel then flips back and forth between the world of the dead and the plight of the lone real-world survivor, as both begin to realize the direness of their situations.

I enjoyed the book.  It’s a well-told story and an original premise.  But I have the same qualms that Carolyn does about the novel.  With the shtick of the story introduced so quickly and completely, by midway through the novel through the novel there really isn’t anything to do but wait for the lone survivor to die.  I wish that Brockmeier would have removed the real-world perspective altogether and allowed the dead to figure out their connection – and what happened in the real world – in a more organic manner.  As it was, the reader only found out through the differing POV, particularly that of a company executive.  No one but the real-world survivor had an arc or a purpose to them and, in her case, the outcome was inevitable.  However, it still made for an interesting read.

The Lover’s Dictionary (211p.)

I got turned onto this book by Clementine Bojangles, whose review is here and is ten times better than anything I can think up in my cold-addled state.

The story follows the relationship of two unknowns, told through entries in a dictionary.  They are in alphabetical order and there is an indescribable whimsy to each and every one.  Every word has its own page dedicated to it and they vary greatly in length from a few words to paragraphs.  But each one elicited a response from me, whether it was to pause and reflect on the romance in the book or that it just brought similar stories from my own life to mind.  Juicy words are thrown in, like deciduous and solipsistic, and there’s an inherent effervescence to Levithan’s writing.

The entries vary from confessions of the narrator, bits of dialogue between the partners, and flashes of shared memories. Things aren’t quite in order; instead it’s as if the narrator is explaining the history of the relationship, with emotionally weighty bits of the present popping through every now and then.  This lends to the authenticity of the romance, as it’s told much how like one might naturally explain things, hopping from here to there but overtaken occasionally by grief or anger.  And by all means, this is no fairy-tale romance.  Issues of infidelity, alcoholism, grief, and the complications of opposite personalities all weigh on the relationship.

It’s a quick, thought provoking read and would make an excellent addition to anyone’s CBR, especially if they’re looking to break up any behemoth books that they are reading.

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