Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Postmortal

    If there's one thing you learn working in a bookstore it's that, more often than you might think, you actually can judge a book by it's cover. It looks like bad sci-fi/fantasy? It probably is. It features a champagne glass, high heels and a shopping bag? I hope you liked the Sex and the City movie. And, of course, romance fiction always looks like romance fiction.
    But, sometimes, there are books that are far better than the cover would lead you to believe. Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep springs immediately to mind (in fact, all of her books are better than her covers); a book that looks like the worst kind of YA and yet proves to be a subtle and complex story about a girl's school; less for Gossip Girl fans and more for the Perks of Being a Wallflower crowd.
    My friend Christopher Hoyt, who is responsible for this month's What Should Kester Read? selections, had pointed me toward Drew Magary's The Postmortal before, but I wasn't interested. If the cover was any indication, this was going to be a bad Christopher Moore ripoff, and I don't even enjoy Christopher Moore. The fact that Magary writes for Maxim and had penned a previous book titled Men With Balls certainly didn't increase my interest. I mention these things because they are the sort of thing that might make my blog readers less interested as well (those that aren't 13-15 year old boys). I mention these things because they prove the old maxim (hey-oh!); you can't judge a book by its author bio. Or by its cover.
    The Postmortal begins in the "not too distant future" of 2019 and spans over 60 years time, ending in 2079. The narrator, John, is one of millions of people around the globe who have received "the cure." What cure, you ask? The cure for aging. Not the cure for death; you can still be hit by a car or get cancer, but, should you avoid those sorts of things, you can, theoretically, live until the end of the world. John's life spans 60 years as the book's timeline does, but he spends those 60 years at the ripe old age of 29.
    This could easily have been either a one note wonder of a book or gone in the direction of the increasingly bizarre. Instead, Magary shows keen insight into what we as individuals and as a society might become, for better and for worse, if we could live to be 1000 instead of 100. Sometimes the better is funny or tender, sometimes the worse is pure evil. The questions Magary asks are the right ones and the answers are a strange combination of surprising and obvious; I found myself being consistently stunned at Magary's imagined repercussions of "the cure" and then thinking, "of course that's what would happen" (cycle marriages, sadly, would clearly happen). 
    Which is not to say that the book doesn't have its clunky moments, one, in particular, that I can't tell you about because it's sort of a spoiler. The ending is, in fact, sort of a dud. But the major plot twists aren't what keep this book moving so much as the world itself and the way it behaves post-mortality. The big moments don't matter as much as the series of smaller ones in between. This is the kind of story you keep thinking about after you've put it down, needing to talk out the all too real implications of this fantastical scenario. 
    Which was why Hoyt assigned it to me in the first place. "Finally!" he said, when I saw him today, "I have somebody to talk about this with." There need to be more somebodies talking about this book. Pick it up and you can be one of them. Maybe you, me and Hoyt can start a book club. At the very least, he can buy us both a beer and pick our brains.

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