I was standing staring at the world. And I still can’t see it.
On the docket today is The Postmortal, the debut novel from journalist Drew Magary. The title for this post is actually borrowed from the novel, as I had a hard time coming up with a title that would do this book justice. For a little while, it was either going to be some witty variation on “to hell in a handbasket”, or some grammatically questionable use of the term “FUBAR”. I guess what I’m trying to say is that The Postmortal is the best kind of messed up, and no book has managed to scare me as profoundly since I made the mistake of reading Kiss The Girls when I was 13 and home alone.
These are the basics of The Postmortal: It’s 2019, and a US scientist’s research into genetically altering hair colour unwittingly becomes a cure for aging. At first condemned by the government, “The Cure” is only available at high cost and high risk through back-alley doctors willing to break the law. John Farrell, a divorce lawyer living in Manhattan, forks over a fortune on his 29th birthday to become a Postmortal, frozen in his prime forever. He keeps a personal blog on his wireless device, chronicling the next 60 years of upheaval and global catastrophe after “The Cure” is legalized and made available to everyone worldwide. Over the years, John experiences tremendous loss and disillusionment, transforming him into a much angrier and more bitter man than in his hopeful and hedonistic youth. In 2090, John’s wireless device is recovered by the Department of Containment in an abandoned building in Virginia, and The Postmortal is pieced together from the journal entries that have been considered the most definitive record of life in the “former United States”.
This post has existed in draft form since the middle of May because I’ve had a terrible time deciding exactly what I want to say about the book, and how deep I want to analyze it here. I’m staring at pages and pages of notes that I’ve been manically jotting down every time I have another idea, and it makes me realize that I could have written a much better term paper on this when I was in Uni than on any of the crap I had to read for my classes. But let’s face it, this is a blog for book reviews, and not a Master’s dissertation, so I’ll cut to the chase.
I supercalifragilistically LOVED this book, and these are the biggest reasons why:
1) The Cure – I said above that this book actually scared me, and “The Cure” is the reason why. Viagra was first developed as blood pressure medication, until they realized that one of the unexpected side effects was a lasting erection. In The Postmortal, Dr. Otto begins his research trying to see if hair colour could be changed on a cellular level, and notices his fruit flies stop dying. It’s like you don’t have to suspend much disbelief to see that John could be documenting our potential future. And we’re collectively so near-sighted that if something like this ever happened, we’d probably all think it was a great idea too.
2) John’s narrative – One of the things that I liked best about this book is that John doesn’t detract from the pace of the story by explaining the minutia of what he’s talking about. If he mentions the name of the Russian President, he doesn’t give some awkward explanation of when he fictionally came to power. When John says he “parked his plug-in”, he doesn’t have to say he’s talking about his car, you just figure it out for yourself based on the context. I guess the blog format of the book doesn’t lend itself to awkward information dumps, but I appreciate that John doesn’t do a lot of, “I remember when so-and-so came to power in 20__….”
The other reason that I like the blog structure of the narrative is that John’s entries are broken up every once in a while with things that he finds important, like transcripts of the President’s address or news articles about global events. It’s a very effective way to flesh out this universe and give John’s entries more of a grounded context.
3) John Farrell – I checked out a couple of other book reviews on The Postmortal, and there are some haters of the protagonist. Judge me for this if you will (once you’ve read it), but I actually identified with John. As a result of the things that happen to him over those 60 years, I feel that there is a logical progression to his actions and reactions. Maybe you don’t cry for him (I suppose he’s a bit of a jackass), but overall I find that John is very human, which means that I could see myself saying or doing some of the same things. John’s story could be anyone’s.
4) The aftermath – By which I mean, the way this book stays with you and the questions that it raises. The Postmortal is no piece of depressing, dystopian fluff that you can read and then say, “Thank goodness that could never actually happen.” Like other reviewers of this book, I find the premise to be disturbingly plausible, which means that this novel puts the spotlight on some touchy issues.
-Regarding Science: Just because you can do a thing, does it mean that you should?
-Regarding love and marriage: Do marriage and monogamy have any logical place when “forever” can mean FOREVER?
– Regarding morality: What would keep humanity on the straight-and-narrow when the ‘afterlife’ (if you believe in it) can be delayed indefinitely? What’s the real deterrent of a prison sentence when you can be just as young and beautiful upon release as you were when you went in?
Drew Magary is a writer for Deadspin, NBC, Maxim, and Kissing Suzy Kolber (a site for NFL humour and news). Check out this interview, where Magary talks about his inspiration for the book. He’s also got a website!
**Bottom line: With horror and black humour, Magary’s novel is like a nightmare that mercifully ends upon waking, but that you can’t ever quite shake. And I mean that in the best possible way. Read it!