May Your Guiding Light Be Strong

Let me start by saying: I liked it.  I’m glad I read it.  I do recommend it to others.  I like the premise and the many interesting ideas it invokes.  There, that’s out of the way.

The novel The Postmortal by Drew Magary is told mostly through journal entries and a few news articles.  The main character is a 27 year-old lawyer who goes to a black market doctor to get “the cure.”  That is, the genetic cure for aging that is discovered in 2019.  At first illegal, the cure brings about a sense of promise and, possibly, eternal youth.  Of course, it becomes available illegally for a hefty price until so many have gotten it and hundreds of others angrily protest that the government decides to legalize it.  There are some who oppose the cure, and with good reason.  And this is the book’s saving grace: the short and long term effects of a global society that doesn’t age and, for the most part, doesn’t die.  (People can still die of injury, cancer, heart attack, etc.  Just not old age and its related diseases.)  Divorce rates sky rocket and marriage becomes obsolete since till death do us part now means hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of years.  Many people lose the desire to work for anything, choosing instead to spend decades traveling because, hey, they’ll be able to work and save money later.  Military enrollment hits a record low despite the fact that wars have become a necessity for no other reason than to thin out the population.  In fact, the term population control takes on a much more sinister meaning.

Sounds really interesting, doesn’t it?  Yeah, I thought so, too.  The problem for me is that there is a lack of both character development (something I love above all else, if done well) AND plot.  There’s no real main conflict or, therefore, resolution.  You know, that which drives any good story.  It’s neither character-driven nor plot-driven.  It’s a premise-driven novel.  A very good premise, but still, any story that inspires true passion and/or adoration has a solid plot and well-developed characters.  This book has neither.

Every well-told story has a central plot.  Generally, it’s introduced within the first quarter of the story, it builds and builds, growing more complicated until, finally, it reaches some sort of climax and then, a resolution.  Characters may come and go, other less-important/exciting subplots may be introduced and later resolved, but they all add to or revolve around the One Central Plot.  It is the glue that holds it all together and, hopefully, keeps the reader reading.

The Postmortal has no glue.  It is one subplot after another.  Intriguing, often engrossing, sometimes thought-provoking subplots, but not necessarily connected to each other, which makes for a choppy read.  No main plot appears at any point, so the whole book is driven by this really cool idea, but nothing else.  The idea is great and rife with possibilities but none of those possibilities are realized because the awesome idea remains just an idea, floating in the air without any plot to fully develop it.  And, cool as it is, it still wasn’t enough (for me) to fill 300 pages.

Not that I only read plot-driven books.  On the contrary, some of my most cherished novels are character-driven.  Being the literary nerd that I am, I usually prefer character-driven books.  The Postmortal, unfortunately, is lacking here as well.  The main character never gets personal enough (especially odd since he tells the story mostly through journal entries) for the narrative to feel intimate and what we know of his personality (and that of every character in this book, for that matter), we know because we are told, not shown.  Which, of course, keeps us readers from really connecting to the characters or their lives.

All in all, I do recommend it.  It explores the effects of an ageless society and Magary brings up issues I wouldn’t have thought of.  I guess I just wish he’d have picked one idea to fully develop instead of broadly addressing many.  And maybe given me a little more insight into the substance of his characters.



2 thoughts on “May Your Guiding Light Be Strong

  1. Pingback: Nikki’s 2011 Reads | ravingmadscientists

  2. Really good review. I like dystopian novels but I like character development and a good plot even more. check out the book ‘We’ by Yevgeny Yazmatin, I think. Maybe you’ll like it if you also like dystopian genre. Za Zdróvye!

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