What if you could simply stop aging? This is the question that lies at the heart of Drew Magary’s debut novel, The Postmortal. Told through what is essentially a series of electronic diary entries written by a man named John Farrell, The Postmortal chronicles the near-future where a cure for aging has been discovered and humanity has taken its first tentative steps toward immortality.
Living forever—that’s great, right?
Maybe not. The cure for aging that sparks the world of The Postmortal guarantees that its recipients will never get any older; they won’t feel any older, they won’t look any older, and they won’t be able to die of natural causes. It might seem great in concept, but it’s not as wonderful as you might believe; The Postmortal addresses the consequences of eternal life head-on. One character points out that retirement is no longer an option. A young woman suddenly realizes that she is always going to get her period. As the doctor who gives John Farrell the cure says, not being able to die a natural death only ensures some other form—starvation, disease, perhaps a knife to the heart in some dark alley. The Postmortal takes a serious look at what it would mean to never age, and it’s rarely a positive look.
It’s not post-apocalyptic, it’s pre-apocalyptic
The Postmortal is a curious book in that it’s certainly an apocalyptic story, but it’s not post-apocalyptic. Rather, this is the story of humanity rushing straight into an apocalypse—and in a way, that makes it even darker and more depressing than the typical grim tones of post-apocalyptic settings. In The Postmortal, the future promises only to be ever-worse than the present, and there’s no way to stop its inevitable coming. It’s not cynicism, it’s just reality—a very, very unpleasant reality.
While The Postmortal certainly has a satirical edge—and even a few funny moments scattered throughout—I wouldn’t describe it as a light or comedic book by any stretch of the imagination. This book is very, very dark, and it is not a fun read. It even feels like Magary is trying to channel George R.R. Martin at some points; whenever the characters get a little taste of happiness, something has to come along and ruin their lives. I don’t mean any of this as a complaint, however, because Magary handles this aspect of The Postmortal spectacularly. He has a talent for creating emotionally engaging characters very quickly, so it hurts to see them continually and unfairly beaten down by the world. There was one scene in particular that hit me very hard; I had to put the book down, and I spent the rest of the day in a foul mood. Only one other book has ever been able to punch me in the gut with that much force, so I commend Magary for being able to pull it off.
Stumbling over the finish line
For all its strengths, there was one aspect of The Postmortal that just didn’t click with me. There is a particular plot thread that is introduced late in the book, and I found it both uninteresting and unbelievable—which was made all the more prominent in comparison to how grounded and genuine the rest of the book felt. Rather than stay consistent to the very last page, The Postmortal devolves into something that comes across as cheesy and very “marketable.” While I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a betrayal of the rest of the book, it just does not mesh with what came before, and it taints an otherwise incredible reading experience. As someone who is often disappointed by endings, this would normally hurt my opinion of the book significantly; however, since the rest of The Postmortal is just that good, it wasn’t a dealbreaker for me.
Why should you read this book?
Bothersome plot thread aside, The Postmortal is an absolutely amazing book. While I was making my way through the first three hundred pages or so, I was fairly convinced that it would rank amongst the best books I’ve ever read, and although the final section of the book knocked it down from that potential status, those first three hundred pages remain stellar literature. If you like books that challenge you, disturb you, and sweep you into terrifying fictional worlds that feel all-too-real, then The Postmortal is for you. If you like books with complex characters, razor-sharp writing, and fresh ideas, then The Postmortal is for you. I guess what I’m trying to say is: if you like great books, then The Postmortal is for you. Go read it.