Saturday, February 5, 2022

How High We Go in the Dark

How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu
1/18/22; 304 pages

How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu is a very highly recommended literary science fiction novel that evolves through a collection of stories with interconnected characters.

In 2030 melting permafrost in Siberia reveals the preserved remains of a girl who died of an ancient plague. This discovery/revelation unleashes the ancient contagion across the world. The insidious virus, the "shape shifter syndrome," first afflicted children and destroys organs by causing one to turn into another. Soon death is the catalyst for businesses, like the City of Laughter, an amusement park where infected children can enjoy one last, fun-filled day before riding a roller coaster designed to kill them or hotels where family members can gather for a final moment with a deceased member.

The progression of these linked stories covers a span of hundreds of years. Each chapter represents a few years in the future and increasingly take on a surreal tone. One life is connected to the next and characters in one story will be in another story, although the associations are not always in a linear advancement. These narratives have a decidedly somber tone as they explore familiar relationships, disappointment, grief, loss, and heartbreak as death is imminent for someone or everyone in each story and society is collapsing. There is also compassion, soul searching, artistic expression, moments of tenderness, care, and kindness as death approaches and it appears humanity is ending.

How High We Go in the Dark captures an apocalyptic future in what could be described as a melding of literary plague fiction with science fiction in a beautifully written novel. It is a melancholy, sad novel but it also manages to depict the adaptability of the human spirit and the relationships, creativity, and bonds that have the potential to strengthen humanity during difficult times but can also divide us. This is a lovely novel in some ways while an overwhelmingly sad one in other ways. The final chapter is the perfect ending to a very intense, personal, humane novel.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the HarperCollins.


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