Eric's Reviews > The Brief History of the Dead

The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier
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Nov 22, 12

I dearly wanted to love this book. The first chapter--establishing a vast city of the recently dead, an afterlife for everyone still remembered by the living--is amazing and beautiful. The second chapter flies off in another direction entirely, and plants us firmly in the ice and snow of antarctica. From there the novel alternates: each odd-numbered chapter explores the city of the dead from a new character's perspective, while the even-numbered chapters follow the adventures of the woman in Antarctica, Laura Byrd, who seems to be the last living person in the world. If this structure sounds like too difficult a balancing act to maintain, that's because it is. Brockmeier holds things together in the first half, but before too long he's grasping to fill out the length of the novel. The stories of the city remain interesting, if hard to believe, for a while. People there listen to music and eat food that comes from...well, from nowhere, apparently. And back in the real world, Laura Byrd journeys from one station to the next, across a vast wasteland of ice and snow. Her scenes are so painfully and poetically protracted that one could easily skip three and four pages at a time without missing anythng but descriptions of frostbitten extremities and an unvaried landscape. The prose is beautiful in the first half and rounds back into top form in the final quarter of the book, which may sustain some readers' engagement. By the anticlimactic ending, though, this "novel" feels like two excellent short stories stretched far beyond their breaking points, and The Brief History of the Dead ultimately fails to be brief enough.
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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Kate I totally agree; this should have been a short story or novella, or, as you say, TWO short stories. Bummer!

I also didn't get why the virus had to be connected with capitalism or why Coke was used. Brockmeier spoiled a good story by interjecting all this blatant and boring anti-corporation tale that served no other purpose. I would have prefered the world to have been wiped out by bird flu or something.

Eric Well, capitalism kills. Coke does, too, I've heard. And corporations--if you don't think they kill, then you're not paying attention.

message 3: by Kim (new) - rated it 1 star

Kim yup, I am on the same page, skipped quite a few pages because it just dragged on, I was thinking, Laura just die already

David Perhaps her death was a bit drawn out, but it served the longer complex story of the City. Still, it seems as if this reviewer wrote his review as if he didn't get the point of the parallel stories, like he didn't get that the two were intimately connected.

Eric You're mistaken. The connection was shown and reiterated throughout the latter half of the book. One can "get" that connection and find other flaws in the novel. Glad you enjoyed it, though.

Maria I liked the parallel stories but I too felt the ending was anti-climatic; I was disappointed. No resolution at least, not to my liking.

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