Monday, May 08, 2006

The Sweet Hereafter

Many folks have read The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold, which was an excellent book (her memoir Lucky is great, too). But there's something that I had a problem with, which comes back to me now that I'm listening to A Brief History of the Dead, by Kevin Brockmeier.

First, other triva about this book. The reader is the same guy who played the lawyer in My Sister's Keeper. I'm now deep enough into this audiobook thing that I know voices. He wasn't my favorite, but he's doing a pretty good job here, I must say. Also, I'd like to complain about the idea of the entire population of the Earth being killed off by a virus that kills you within 24 hours of contracting it. There are people in Darkest Africa or the Amazon basin who would never get this virus. I cannot accept this; I could have it was addressed more directly, but it was brushed over. If 28 Days Later taught me anything, it's that a fast-acting virus might not even make it across the channel.

But the main point: how do you feel about heaven? I can get along with the idea of the book taking place of heaven, but I don't feel comfortable with the idea of the afterlife being a city. Where people from all over the world, those who lived on islands, in Mongolia and Tibet, everyone ends up in this city. It shifts shape and size to accomodate, but it's all city. Also, people who live there have jobs. They cook and eat food, run restaurants or print local newspapers. They have apartments and buy shoes for fun. It's a very material life, and there is neither an explanation of things like "who's manufacturing these shoes?" nor a dreamy mystery about these issues. I'd accept the latter. But it's not even a question--the afterlife is much like life.

(As Mike says, "If I get to heaven and find out I have to get a job....eugh.")

Now, of course this is only the first stage of death. You live in this city until the last person who remembers you dies, and then you vanish--move on to The Next Big Thing, I presume. I can't quite tell if I'm not supposed to have figured this out, but I hope I am, because I have. The epigraph completely gives it away; it's about the African distinction between the dead who reside within living memory, and the honored dead who are considered "ancestors."

I just can't get in line with the metaphysical being brought so closely in line with the physical. It's acutally kind of boring to me. It makes things smaller than I believe them to be.

But to tell you the truth, what really bothers me is the idea that a bunch of guys on an Arctic outpost died of a virus that kills you within 24 hours. Doesn't. Make. Sense.

1 comment:

Kris said...

Yeah, I realize that the concept of a virus which gets you in 24 hours SOUNDS like it could spread around the world, and is all dramatic and such, but really, just not possible.

And yeah, I read that book, and remember thinking "Why is heaven just earth, with no lousy manufacturing jobs? Who wants that?" After all, you're then living in a city with millions of strangers and nobody you really know, and where the hell do you go after (no ironic answer to my own question intended)?