Kelly's Reviews > The Postmortal

The Postmortal by Drew Magary
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Sep 06, 11

Read from August 31 to September 01, 2011

There's a lot to really like about this book. Most reviews mention this book's ability to dismantle the concept of immortality down to its absolute bare bones and explore every possible negative outcome, and that is really true: Peter Pan babies! Cycle marriages! Meaninglessness of professional sports records! Birth date tattoos!

What's funny is that the narrative device (the text is a blog kept by the narrator recovered at a later future date) reminded me a lot of The Handmaid's Tale. In actuality is only funny if you're comparing Drew Magary and Margaret Atwood, not "a near-future dystopic book where the text is presented as the narrator's blog" and "a near-future dystopic book where the text is presented as transcripts of tape recordings made by the narrator." But comparing Drew Magary and Margaret Atwood is pretty funny.

I also loved and found lacking The Postmortal and The Handmaid's Tale in a lot of similar ways. I've said before that a lot of books make me want not the book that the author wrote but a children's social studies textbook from that author's universe that tells me more about the world the author built and less about the characters the author created. The Postmortal and The Handmaid's Tale are two books that come the closest to giving me all the social studies textbook details that I want (The Postmortal is able to do this more deftly with the intercalary chapters where the narrator is "sharing links" in his blog, which I want to criticize as clumsy narrative cheating but it's also giving me exactly what I want so it seems hypocritical to complain). But both books feel slightly hollow because of a lack of emotional resonance with the narrator.

The lack of emotional resonance in The Handmaid's Tale is something I didn't notice until I re-read it about a decade after my first reading. The Handmaid's Tale creates emotional identification (especially if you're a woman, obviously) and also uses the flashback structure to create an emotional build-up. But when I'm reading the book, I don't really care about the dead husband or the budding romance with the driver nearly as much as I think I was supposed to care.

With The Handmaid's Tale, some of this can be chalked up to a meta-intention to remove the reader from Offred's emotions and desires even when we're in her own POV because that's how much she's been stripped of agency. In The Postmortal, John Farrell is in a position of pretty significant privilege (white, male, educated, affluent to the point that he's able to purchase the cure while it's still black market), so his problems for most of the novel are emotional problems, not problems of institutional oppression. And I just don't really care about his relationship problems. The women in his life are introduced at moments that seem intended to create narrative catalyst, but I just really, really, really didn't care.

One thing I did respect about The Postmortal is its commitment to straightforward chronological narrative. Like I said above, I think The Handmaid's Tale (and many other books I have enjoyed and even loved, like The Sparrow) relies on flashback structure to create emotional resonance. A book about immortality feels like one where a non-linear narrative is practically prerequisite, and I found it refreshing that the story believed it could be told linearly on its own merits. I'm not sure if that was true, but I respected the attempt.
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