cover image How High We Go in the Dark

How High We Go in the Dark

Sequoia Nagamatsu. Morrow, $27.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-307264-0

Nagamatsu’s ambitious, mournful debut novel-in-stories (after the collection Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone) offers a mosaic portrait of the near future, detailing the genesis and fallout of an ancient alien plague reawakened from a Neanderthal corpse thanks to the melting permafrost in the Siberian tundra. Combining the literary and the science fictional, each subtly interconnected chapter examines a point of failure during the dying days of the great human experiment: in the social safety net, in marriages, in families, and in compassion for non-humanoid life-forms. As the flu-like pandemic intersects with increasing climate change and exposes society’s flaws, the characters bear witness to a massive extinction event happening to them in real time. Nagamatsu can clearly write, but this exploration of global trauma makes for particularly bleak reading: the novel offers no resolutions, or even much hope, just snapshots of grief and loss. (Those with weak stomachs, meanwhile, will want to skip the “Songs of Your Decay” for its graphic descriptions of corpse decomposition.) Readers willing to speculate about a global crisis not too far off from reality will find plenty to think about in this deeply sad but well-rendered vision of an apocalyptic future. Agent: Annie Hwang, Ayesha Pande Literary. (Jan.)