I am deeply interested right now in the literature and general art coming about as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. It may not even be on purpose these books are beginning to come out more frequently now; I know writers workshop things for a while before they’re released, but the release of this book, in particular, feels very timely and almost necessary.
This book contains a set of haunting yet beautiful interconnected short stories. They vary in narrator, setting, timeline, and severity of a (really gross and scary) plague society is forced to contend with at the beginning of the book. The stories begin somewhere around 2030 or so, and end somewhere around 2150? Or 8000 if my math is right. As per the usual standard of interconnected stories, some characters show up in other stories in passing, while others may be related (some separated by many generations) or friend-of-a-friend (or lover-of-an-ex-lover) type relations. None of it ever felt forced, however. All the characters were organically placed, and I never had any qualms about seeing where they appear elsewhere in the book.
Many short stories (I argue, at the beginning and in the middle of the book primarily) hit so hard you will need to put the book down and stare into space after reading them (“City of Laughter”, “Through the Garden of Memory”, and “Pig Son” had me bawling). The first half of the book contains the fear, immeasurable pain, and widespread death you would expect from a blooming plague. Then it begins to pivot to how society “adapts” in its usual ways: exploitation and capitalism. You will see horrifying yet totally possible scenes of death hotels, euthanasia theme parks, funerary cryptocurrency, etc. Finally, the last third of the book is more on the hopefulness of humankind, and how we will persevere utilizing technology, space travel, and love.
Overall, this book was extremely moving and powerful. I think by the time I was halfway in I had yelled at several people to buy and read this book. Now that I finished it, I will continue to yell. Literature like this provides a sort of mirror to ourselves as we continue to deal with the pandemic and global warming, and it also gives us a guide for hope, which we desperately need in order to come out of this on top. I highly recommend this book and am excited to hopefully see more takes on this topic in the future.