cover image Here Lies

Here Lies

Olivia Clare Friedman. Grove, $27 (208p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2939-0

In Friedman’s somber debut novel (after the collection Disasters in the First World), burials are banned, graveyards are shut down, and the dead are cremated. The year is 2042 and in Louisiana, 22-year-old Alma struggles with the death of her mother, Naomi, from ovarian cancer. Her deep emotional connection with Naomi hasn’t diminished, and much of her anguish has to do with being unable to fulfill her mother’s wishes for a proper burial. Alma is a frequent library patron, and there she encounters Bordelon, a fiercely independent 19-year-old whose mother vanished. They bond, drinking beer and distracting one another from their losses and regrets while venturing into forbidden graveyards and battling bureaucracy in the hopes that Alma may still honor her mother’s dying wish. As their quest to claim Naomi’s ashes from the state unfolds, they are helped by a librarian who knew Naomi and a notary. Friedman conjures surprising and deep human bonds among the four strong women as they unite under their shared mission. The author doesn’t offer much in the way of detail of her dystopian future, a gamble that pays off by leaving room to show how her characters cling to an old-time sense of “kicking and living,” as Alma puts it, in the face of catastrophic changes. The result is illuminating and startling. Agent: Jin Auh, Wylie Agency. (Mar.)