How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu is a novel which spans lifetimes, weaving in elements of science fiction, history, and grief. It’s a collection of short stories which exist in the same timeline and have interconnected characters. It begins with the discovery of a child in ice whose body contained a virus that morphs organs into other types of tissue. From this basis, Nagamatsu zooms in on specific characters, shows their loss, displays their grief, and works to create a depth to his world.
I was particularly fond of the chapter City of Laughter, in which a young boy is dying from the disease and is taken to a roller coaster park, to first be a patient in a drug trial, and then be sent on the final roller coaster meant to kill. It’s a deeply powerful story of love and loss between a worker at the park, the boy, and his mother. And throughout reading the chapter, there are varying degrees of happiness and sadness. And the story balances its bittersweet end perfectly.
I also liked the way it was critical of how capitalism works to use death as ways of profit in Elegy Hotel, in which a hotel chain stages the bodies of the recently deceased in hotel rooms for their loved ones to say their final goodbyes. Some of the stories, such as Through the Garden of Memory and Pig Son have otherworldly concepts, but Nagamatsu works so elegantly in crafting them, that they don’t feel out of place. It is a beautifully apt novel for the current moment, but also heartbreakingly powerful in how it sits with death, grief, hope, and survival.
Final Rating: 4.5/5
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Maxwell Suzuki is a writer, poet, and photographer based in Los Angeles.