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Pandemic Novel ‘How High We Go in the Dark’ Is an Emotional Roller Coaster: NPR

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Pandemic Novel ‘How High We Go in the Dark’ Is an Emotional Roller Coaster: NPR

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Pandemic Novel ‘How High We Go in the Dark’ Is an Emotional Roller Coaster: NPR

 | News Today

How far do we go in the darkSequoia Nagamatsu’s debut novel about a 2030 climate change virus altering humanity centuries into the future, may hit too hard for those mourning the loss of loved ones to the coronavirus, as well as the loss of their previous life before the pandemic.

The book drew comparisons to the pandemic account of Emily St. John Mandel station eleven, but at least the latter is mostly about a thriving performance troupe in post-apocalypse hope. Nagamatsu’s collection of interconnected stories unflinchingly inhabits the ripple effects of a 30,000-year-old arctic plague, unleashed by melting permafrost: an aimless young man works at a euthanasia theme park for terminally ill children, putting them on roller coasters that will kill them before the plague does; a test subject pig gains sentience, only to fulfill its true purpose as an organ donor; people connect in VR online chat rooms to make suicide pacts. Don’t get me wrong, this is a book about death.

But it is not a singular or reductive representation of death. It’s the cynicism of how death gives way to flourishing commerce – hotels where guests can stage the gruesome final moments with the corpses of their loved ones for closure, bitcoin whose value rises and falls with the death toll, the social media profiles that allow digital ghosts to live beyond their failed flesh-and-blood bodies.

This is counterbalanced by thoughtful explorations of how survivors deal with death and loss through art – a muralist decorates every inch of the walls of a generation ship with portraits of those lost to the plague ; an artisan forgoes cremation in favor of liquidation, transforming bodies into dynamic ice sculptures. Even the darkest stories conjure up a memorable image, and often that visual involves reaching out for the stars, for a memory, or even just stretching your arms skyward atop the roller coaster, whether you know it or not. how the ride ends.

Nagamatsu (Where we go when all we were is gone) has been working on this ambitious book in one form or another since 2011, with its early drafts of stories focusing more on family estrangement and bereavement. Tracing the lifespan of the arctic plague via interrelated vignettes certainly gives How high a very A visit from the Goon Squad mood, but it’s essential to break the surface of its timely narrative context and focus more on the emotional underpinnings. Like Jennifer Egan’s novel, it deserves to be read in order, as the connections between different lives in subsequent generations are often subtle, from a minor character in one story undergoing a career change in the next, to a few potential forays into alternate universes. .

The title of the novel comes from one of the weaker stories, “Through the Garden of Memory”, which follows a comatose plague patient into a liminal space where he interacts with other victims he cannot first feel only by voice and touch in the semi-darkness. Eventually they gain the ability to witness each other’s lives leading to their common infection and work against their instincts for self-preservation to build a human pyramid towards – well, it’s not exactly at the topbut definitely in some way outside of this void. Perhaps these are the rules of the dream state, but this more extravagant story lacks the touching specificity of the stories that precede and follow it.

In contrast, a story like “The Used-To-Be Party” is so painfully poignant because of its hyper-specific, relatable form: a social media post from a lonely man to neighbors whom his late wife knew intimately but to who he is practically a stranger. His invitation to a block party for those spared (but not either) from the plague vibrates with a mixture of grief and hope, but also carries the sentiment repeated by many characters in the novel: I should have been the one who died. It doesn’t take a pandemic to tap into this survivor’s guilt, but it does make the sentiment much more universal.

As thoughtfully as the author describes how humans deal with fear and grief during the plague, the book’s final section seems to dismiss them to tell a larger cosmic story. The story was gripping without her.

If you consider How far do we go in the dark as an emotional roller coaster, you might agree that it peaks narratively about two-thirds through the collection, with those bold stories providing the reading equivalent of a slow build-up and a dip that leaves drop stomach. This necessarily means that subsequent stories may not evoke the same thrill. Still, the ride needs its lows to balance its highs so the reader feels like they’ve experienced the full arc, like they got what they paid for, like they could get off the ride and decide if he wanted to recover again.

Natalie Zutter is a Brooklyn-based playwright and pop culture critic whose work has appeared on, Den of Geek, Electric Literature and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter @nataliezutter.

Pandemic Novel ‘How High We Go in the Dark’ Is an Emotional Roller Coaster: NPR

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