Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Brief History of the Dead

The idea behind Kevin Brockmeier's The Brief History of the Dead is fascinating. His novel imagines a world where the dead "live" after long as someone in the living world has memories of them. Things turn complicated when a virus sweeps the living world, and the land of the dead grows smaller in turn. I kept thinking the whole time while reading, "Aronofsky should totally direct a film adaptation of this." Or Christopher Nolan. Though there's not really a place for many explosions in the plot.

So here are some passages:

The dead were often surprised by such memories. They might go weeks and months without thinking of the houses and neighborhoods they had grown up in, their triumphs of shame and glory, the jobs, routines, and hobbies that had slowly eaten away their lives, yet the smallest, most inconsequential episode would leap into their thoughts a hundred times a day, like a fish smacking its tail on the surface of a lake. The old woman who begged for quarters in the subway remembered eating a meal of crab cakes and horseradish on a dock by Chesapeake Bay. The man who lit the gas lamps in the theater district remembered taking a can of beans from the middle of a supermarket display pyramid and feeling a flicker of pride and then a flicker of amusement at his pride when the other cans did no fall. Andreas Andreopoulos, who had written code for computer games the wholet forty years of his adult life, remembered leaping to pluck a leaf from a tree, and opening a fashion magazine to smell the perfume inserts, and writing his name in the condensation on a glass of beer. They preoccupied him--these formless, almost clandestine memories. They seemed so much heavier than they should have been, as if they were where the true burden of his life's meaning lay. He sometimes thought of piecing them together into an autobiography, all the toy-sized memories that had replaced the details of his work and family, and leaving everything else out. He would write it by hand on sheets of unlined notebook paper. He would never touch a computer again.

That was what insomnia was, after all--an excess of consciousness, an excess of life. Ever since she could remember, she had treated her life as an act of will, the you-can-do-anything-you-set-your-mind-to philosophy, but she couldn't will herself to fall asleep. The only way to fall asleep was not to care whether you fell asleep or not: you had to relinquish your will. Most people seemed to think that you fell asleep and then started dreaming, but as far as Minny could tell, the process was exactly the reverse--you started dreaming and that enabled you to fall asleep. She wasn't able to start dreaimng, though, because she couldn't stop thinking about the fact that she wasn't already asleep. And anything that called her attention to that fact made it more likely that she would keep thinking about it, and a million little snowdrops of nervous tension would bud open inside her, and thus she wouldn't start dreaming, and thus she wouldn't be able to sleep.

What a mess.
That last one's for me. bastard.

1 comment:

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