A book for the pandemic

I finished How High We Go In the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu a week ago and I can’t stop thinking about it. It could easily be categorized as a pandemic book but it’s so much more than that and has a longer history.

The book consists of linked short stories, many previously published. The links are tenable but slight. The newest protagonist in a chapter/story is a relative of a character from a prior story. But their personal experience of the pandemic’s impact is always different.

A worker at an amusement park that euthanizes children. A scientist growing transplant organs in pigs. A forensic scientist at a body farm. Their occupations provide an entry point into a new element of how the world is dealing with the massive death toll. Then we discover their personal loss, pain, grief.

No one comes out unscathed which is basically life. With so much of the focus on a new funeral industrial complex that provides new ways to grieve, you’d think this book would be depressing. Yes, it is smothered with loss but every story contains the second truth of the human experience – the need for connection.

It is the hope contained within the act of connection that balances the grief of loss. There is no grief with without loss, no loss without connection.

Some chapters are more sci-fi than the others. They challenge you to think about the themes in a novel way. Thousands of people in a dark, unknown place must work together. A sentient, telepathic pig learns the truth of its reason for being. These chapters are interspersed between more traditional chapters and provide an interesting respite from the more straightforward pain.

Read this book. Tell someone else to read it so you can talk about it together. Tell someone else. Trust me, you’ll want to continue to revisit these stories.

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