Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Book review: The Suicide Collectors by David Oppegaard

"The Despair has plagued the earth for five years. Most of the world’s population has inexplicably died by its own hand, and the few survivors struggle to remain alive. A mysterious, shadowy group called the Collectors has emerged, inevitably appearing to remove the bodies of the dead. But in the crumbling state of Florida, a man named Norman takes an unprecedented stand against the Collectors, propelling him on a journey across North America. It’s rumored a scientist in Seattle is working on a cure for the Despair, but in a world ruled by death, it won’t be easy to get there."

The author is an '02 grad of my college, so I showed up at a recent signing/reading on campus and scored an autographed copy.

I know that listing comparisons is lazy and inexact, but with so many parallels suggesting themselves so easily here it's a handy shorthand to convey the "feel" of Oppegaard's story--so bear with me.

As seen in the description, the setup is very much in the vein of Children of Men (though with the depopulation a few stages further along), as well as M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening. The plot is basically a post-apocalyptic road picture, with our protagonist Norman encountering various groups of survivors and overcoming hazards natural and manmade. The mysterious Collectors, who spirit away the remains of the fallen, reminded me of the Strangers in Dark City, and the descriptions of a crumbling, recently abandoned America evoked The Postman--the movie not the book since I haven't read it, and I want to note that I reference it not sarcastically but as a compliment, since I really enjoy that movie despite the detractors.

As io9 pointed out, it "may be the first novel ever to have a blurb from Marvel Comics' Stan Lee and reviews comparing it to Cormac McCarthy's The Road." (Incidentally, the film adaptation of the latter is scheduled for October 16.)

Verdict: It was OK but not great. You can definitely tell it was a first novel. It had a solid plot and some great individual elements, but didn't quite live up to the promise of the setup, and the prose itself varies between really good and extremely uninspired. I suppose vocabulary and simple sentence structure is silly to get hung up on, but that's me. (I can't stand Hemingway for the same reason, which is probably why I never became an English major. I grant that there's probably a lot of great stuff of his that I'm missing out on; if that makes me a Philistine, so be it.)

I give The Suicide Collectors 3.5 out of 5. Then again, my expectations were high because reviews were very positive--for example, it's been named a finalist for the 2008 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel--so your mileage may vary. It's pretty short and is definitely worth a read if you enjoyed any of the plots/films I mentioned above, but I'd check it out of the library or wait for the paperback.

I will say that I am looking forward to seeing what else Oppegaard comes up with. His followup novel Wormwood, Nevada will be released in December 2009, also from St. Martin's Press.

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