"By Anita Sama, USA TODAY
Tue Mar 7, 6:54 AM ET
The premise is larger than life: There is a transitional place for the dead if they remain in the memory of someone living.
In his novel The Brief History of the Dead, Kevin Brockmeier peoples an entire city with these nearly departed.
His city of the dead pulses with life. Inhabitants shop for shoes, read the newspaper, linger over coffee and wonder what comes next. Neither heaven nor hell, death here actually looks a lot like life on Earth with some fascinating quirky twists. No one ages, and possibilities range from good people rediscovering love to the not-so-good staying disturbingly in character. (Related excerpt: Read a preview of The Brief History of the Dead)
Each chapter alternates between this posthumous 'outer room' and a fiendishly cold corner of the real world. Here, one woman's memory holds the key to that otherworldly city. Laura Byrd is a wildlife specialist on a bizarre polar expedition.
Gradually, we understand why she is there and meet her family, childhood friends, former lovers and passing acquaintances. With Brockmeier's well-paced narrative, connections among them become clear.
Who are these people, and what are they doing in this strange place? Sound familiar and enticing? Sort of like Lost in a good book.
Brockmeier's roots in the tradition of science fiction and fantasy are evident, although in this relatively brief book, he reaches wider than merely charting the apocalypse. There are many levels, each interesting.
One is the fragile nature of human civilization. Another is the stunning number of people e"