Hawking Up Hairballs

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Suicide Collectors

The Suicide Collectors by David Oppegaard is the strangest novel that I've read in a long time. It's set in the near future at a time when something called the Despair is ravaging the human race. No one knows what causes the Despair, but it is rapidly depopulating the earth. When the novel opens, people have committed suicide by the thousands, and only a small number of them are left. The Collectors of the title are black-robed people who appear to collect the bodies of the suicides. No one knows where they take them, or what they do with them.

The novel begins when a young man by the name of Norman comes home to find that his wife has succumbed and killed herself. That leaves Norman and an old man named Pops as the only two residents of their Florida town. A drifter comes through and tells them that a Seattle scientist by the name of Briggs has discovered a cure for the Despair. Jordan and Pops head for Seattle in search of this Briggs. They have a number of harrowing adventures on the way and, when Norman arrives in Seattle, he's alone. He finds Briggs, but discovers that there is no cure for the Despair. However, Briggs has come up with a plan to destroy the Source, which is the cause of the condition. Norman carries out the plan, at the cost of his own life, thus freeing the human race from the ravages of the Despair.

The Suicide Collectors has been slotted into the science fiction genre. David Oppegaard sees his book as a literary work. I get his point. His story is haunting and macabre. It's surreal and nightmarish, and it's unlike anything that most people would think of as science fiction per se.

Oppegaard's a good writer. His prose is spare and well crafted, and he writes in such a way as to enhance the surreal quality of his story. There are some flaws in the book though. The most obvious one regards the eleven-year-old girl named Zero. She a major secondary character but, in conversation, she talks more like someone who's twenty years older than her age. I found that most annoying. There are also some flaws in the narrative logic but those I was able to overlook, given the surreal nature of the story. I can't outright recommend the book, but if you're looking for something strange and off the wall, pick up The Suicide Collectors.


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