four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
22-May-June-2006
user_rating: 
0

A-TheBriefHistoryOfTheDead"The City" is a vibrant, idyllic place in an alternate Earth, even though its residents are all dead. The happy lives of these souls are extremely tenuous, however, since only the memories of them by those still alive on Earth sustain their existence. So while relationships among the souls are patched up and the free press speculates on their bond to the living world, the alive human population is decimated by a mysterious virus. As a result, the souls in the City of the dead disappear in an instant. Only Laura Byrd, stranded in Antarctica on a publicity stunt for a soft drink company, tries to prolong the lives of the City’s deceased as she struggles to remember them—and to keep herself alive through a harrowing storm.
Pantheon. 252 pages. $22.95. ISBN: 0375423699

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"The author’s inventions work because, in the telling of the tale, each sentence is cast as a surmise. He never judges. He describes all of his characters with a kind of open, generous jumble of detail, memory and guesswork that feels almost like fate." Brian Bouldrey

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"This notion of a post-life way station will be familiar to readers of The Lovely Bones, but Brockmeier’s sensibility is cooler and more precise than Alice Sebold’s. … Brockmeier is a wonderful writer who knows how to set up an image, pick a verb, and convey a sound." Karen R. Long

Detroit Free Press 4 of 5 Stars
"Can [Laura] truly remember every mail carrier, a man she once gave a pack of matches to, a baby who grabbed her finger in a park during a chance encounter? … Brockmeier’s characters are wonderful, and his images are dazzling." Susan Hall-Balduf

Esquire 4 of 5 Stars
"The idea of the city threatens, at times, to become mawkish (all that memory and desire and melancholy and regret), but it is rescued by the thoroughness and weirdness of its conceit. … Brockmeier has not only written an allegory of our connection to those we have lost, but he has shot it through with the darkest fears of our times." Anna Godberson

Milwaukee Jrnl-Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"Brief History also approaches one of my highest standards for fiction: Brockmeier gives nearly every character major or minor a fair shake, a chance to be grasped by readers as understandably human, if not always seen in his or her best light." Jim Higgins

Philadelphia Inquirer 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Laura’s search for help abruptly slows the novel. Her quest compels her to travel through Antarctica’s barren lands, combating freezing temperatures. Since Laura’s journey is so long and arduous, the reader endures as much pain reading the novel as she does traveling in it." David Sherman-Presser

Critical Summary

If the plot of The Brief History of the Dead seems fantastic, critics are full of assurances that Kevin Brockmeier’s execution of the tale makes it not only believable but essential reading. Though the premise and title might indicate a moribund air to the proceedings, in fact reviewers find the book astir with hope and human emotion. Other than an isolated review that finds the novel slow paced (Philadelphia Inquirer), Brief History receives the same ecstatic praise that propelled Brockmeier’s early short stories (collected in Things That Fall From the Sky) to numerous honors.