Thursday, December 29, 2011

"The Postmortal" by Drew Magary-- Funny, Grim and Thought Provoking

We live in a world that idolizes youth. We're bombarded everyday by ads that proclaim this product can erase smile lines and that product can cover gray hair and actors become more well known for their plastic surgery than their latest movie-- so the premise of The Postmortal by Drew Magary is perfectly in sync with modern society.

In the year 2019 a scientist accidentally discovers the cure for aging. "The Cure," as it becomes known, spreads like wildfire through the black market before the consequences can be fully understood. John Farrell is one of those who decides to get The Cure--it's still illegal but the lure of eternal life is enough to make a lot of people ignore their otherwise law-abiding tendencies-- and we see the evolution of The Cure's impact on society through Farrell's blog entries that chronicle events until 2090.

The downside of The Cure is that it only cures ageing. You can still die of cancer or heart disease-- but you'll look good doing it. The initial giddy rush of immortality creates a mood of worldwide celebration though terrorist cells also grow as small segments of society violently object to this unnatural advancement. Societal norms are quickly abandoned as people reassess their desire to stay married to the same person for eternity and things  like "cyclical marriage" become popular. As time passes people have their "old" kids and their "new" kids as second families become common and the end result is a predictable and ever increasing population.

"The Postmortal" is a really interesting book in that the mood significantly changes from one half to the other. The first part of the book is, at times, laugh-out-loud funny. There are dark moments but they're infrequent and not as memorable as the flash of insight in which a woman realizes she's going to have her monthly cycle forever. The humorous side of human nature really flourishes as Magary shows a real talent for predicting our frailties and lack of foresight. How people cope runs the gamut from stockpiling in massive quantities of food to simply abandoning their lives and travelling the world.

The second half of the book has a decidedly grimmer tone to match an uncomfortably large population. Food and space are real issues and healthcare is prioritized for people who haven't had The Cure. God is dead in the eyes of a lot of people and a cult-like devotion develops for the "Church of Man" that preaches that we are all gods now. The mood of the book is a direct mirror of the changes the world goes through as it experiences its literal growing pains.

John Farrell is a great set of eyes to see the postmortal world through. He's the perfect everyman. The kind of guy who lives a normal life, with normal friends and a perfectly average love life. The decision he makes to get The Cure is one that we could all relate to-- a sort of spur-of-the-moment thing that most of us could imagine doing. And we can picture having a similar evolution; one that sees us going from our pedestrian life to one of drastic measures to survive.

I did like the book a lot, but there are a few leaps of logic that I couldn't quite follow. In order for the story to progress we have to believe that The Cure would initially become widely distributed on the black-market by unscrupulous doctors in fairly large numbers. I couldn't quite buy in to that notion or the fact that the serum would be that readily available. And as much as I can believe that many people wouldn't fully grasp the consequences of an ageless society, I still think that most people would immediately grasp the danger. But here there is no realistic U.S. governmental response, such as restrictions on the number of children people can have-- though China does continue its tradition of forceful means to control its population. Perhaps the lack of birth control is a literary means of allowing the story to focus more on the issue of assisted suicide, in the form of governmental "End Specialists," but I think there could have been room for both topics.

However "The Postmortal" has a lot of strengths. It's a thought provoking topic and Magary does a good job of portraying both the absurd and the terrifying consequences of this kind of an unchecked advancement. The human response is the key here and the story is written in a terrifically relatable way. I have read some reviews that didn't like the mood change from the first to the last half of the book but I thought it was a great device that really elevated the sense of impending doom. Ultimately "The Postmortal" works. It does make you think but it is also hugely entertaining. There are a lot of ideas that work their way through the story but they instantly resonate and add to the feeling that this could happen just like this and the result is a book that will keep you up late just to see what happens next.

4 out of 5 stars.


Jessica ( frellathon ) said...

This one's on my TBR list. I like the sound of it.

Michael Offutt, Supra-Genius said...

It's interesting how the new thing seems to be to write about youth lasting forever. I guess it's the new vampire.

SQT said...

@Jess-- It is a good book. I think I can safely recommend it.

@Michael--Really? I didn't know this was a trend. What other books are out there right now?