Thursday, February 18, 2010

Review: SUM: Forty Tales from the Afterlives

What happens after we die?  It's a question all of us, from time to time, have pondered.  Even if we have no answers, we can speculate.

David Eagleman, a neuroscientist and writer, speculated through 40 different possible existences after death in SUM: Forty Tales of the Afterlives. He presents a series of unrelated snippets, each only a few pages in length, for readers to ponder.  The glimpses are brief, like a light that catches the eyes of a cat who freezes, eyes shining, before dashing away into the darkness of the empty field.

Not all of the ponderings are successful.  I began reading a couple to my husband David, who stopped me to ask, "Wasn't that a Twilight Zone episode?"  Honestly, David wasn't too far off.  The spirit was the same, though I would liken it to Night Gallery.  Those are the bizarre ones, seemingly tossed into the pack, almost as if he was padding the book to make forty.

Eagleman's speculates on deities are among his weakest stories.  The sex of a god, or plurality, or attentiveness or omnipotence, is hackneyed and overdone.  Give me something new, something on which I myself have yet to postulate.

When Eagleman takes the path less traveled, he is heartbreakingly, staggeringly, excruciatingly spot-on. I finished "Mirrors" with tears in my eyes.  "The Unnatural" would spark the interest of anyone involved with bureaucracy.  "Will-o'-the-Wisp" was a picnic steeped in irony.

The brevity is a blessing: if you like it, you can savor the taste of what you might consider perfection.  If you don't like it, don't worry: like Florida's weather, it will change before you know it.

It's an interesting experiment that is worth the risk.  Chances are, you'll find something you'll like.

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