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Friday, December 5, 2008

“The Suicide Collectors” by David Oppegaard (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Listen To An Excerpt HERE (MP3)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: David Oppegaard holds a B.A. in English Literature from St. Olaf College and an M.F.A. in Writing from Hamline University, and was a finalist for the Indiana Review Fiction Award and the Iowa Fiction Award. “The Suicide Collectors” is his first novel. David’s second book, “Wormwood, Nevada”, was recently picked up by St. Martin’s Press.

PLOT SUMMARY: The Despair has plagued the earth for five years. Most of the world’s population has inexplicably died by its own hand, and the few survivors struggle to remain alive. A mysterious, shadowy group called the Collectors has emerged, inevitably appearing to remove the bodies of the dead. But in the crumbling state of Florida, a man named Norman takes an unprecedented stand against the Collectors, propelling him on a journey across North America. It’s rumored a scientist in Seattle is working on a cure for the Despair, but in a world ruled by death, it won’t be easy to get there…

CLASSIFICATION:The Suicide Collectors” blends horror with drama and traces of the fantastic (futuristic technology, supernatural elements), and adds a unique twist to the post-apocalyptic blueprint.

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 320 pages divided over five Parts, twenty-nine numbered chapters and an Epilogue. Narration is in the third-person, almost exclusively via Norman, except for the Epilogue. “The Suicide Collectors” is self-contained, but does leave room for possible sequels. December 9, 2008 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “The Suicide Collectors” via
St. Martin’s Press. Cover designed by Michael Collica.

ANALYSIS: Post-apocalyptic tales—whether you’re talking about novels, comic books, television, movies or videogames—are, for the most part, a dime a dozen. So when I heard about David Oppegaard’sThe Suicide Collectors”, I was immediately intrigued by the book’s original concept: a near future Earth where ninety percent of mankind has been wiped out by suicide. Of even more interest were the Collectors, an enigmatic group of dark-robed, seemingly inhuman people who collect the bodies of the deceased for some unknown purpose…

Of course, what’s a concept without substance? Fortunately, David’s debut novel is much more than a neat idea. The prose, while not flashy, is consistent and accessible. The characters—which included Norman, his neighbor and friend Pops, an eleven-year-old girl named Zero, the Mayor, etc—are endearing backed by strong dialogue and banter. And the novel is excellently fast-paced, propelled by a number of riveting questions such as: What horrors will Norman and Pops encounter on their trek across America? What caused the Despair? Is there really a cure in Seattle? Who or what are the Collectors? What do they do with the bodies they collect? What is the Source? And can the Despair be stopped?

On a personal note, I was particularly moved by some of the book’s more shocking and profound moments including two little girls who viciously murder an old woman, a house covered in sheets of paper which is basically one massive suicide note, a cult that worships the Source, this one very horrific scene in a church, and the desperate acts (post-Despair) that people are forced to commit in the name of compassion. There were also a couple of intriguing ideas discussed about what caused the Despair—one revolved around the dead of the world during the past million years unifying in its desire for revenge against the living:

They’d suck all the life out of the world, greedy for its warmth, and they’d laugh as remaining husks killed themselves one by one, until the entire world was dead, together again at last.”

Negatively, there is an unlikely coincidence in the novel and much of the story’s ambiguous answers might leave the reader unfulfilled, but these are minor issues compared to the book which, as a whole, is striking and memorable.

CONCLUSION:The Suicide Collectors” reminded me somewhat of The Stand, Robert R. McCammon’sSwan Song”, The Road, and various other post-apocalyptic tales in the way that it observes such familiar themes as life, death, the resiliency of the human spirit, religion, etc., but possesses enough distinguishing features of its own to ensure a worthwhile reading experience. In short, “The Suicide Collectors” is an impressive first novel by an author in David Oppegaard who I expect to see a lot more of in the future…


Cheryl said...

Great review. I have this book on my wish list to get.

Robert said...

Thanks Cheryl! I was really impressed with the book and I hope you enjoy it :D

Anonymous said...

Hey Robert!

Great review. This sound like it's right up my alley.

Have a great Christmas!!

Robert said...

Thanks! Happy Holidays to you as well :D

Kathy W said...

I am about halfway through this book now. Your right about it being similar to The Stand. This is a whole lot darker of a story than what it was though. Not sure what I think of it yet. Will have to see how it ends. Great review you wrote up. Hope you don't mind if when I get mine written up I add a link to your review.

Robert said...

Thanks for the comment Kathy! I'd be more than happy if you linked my review with yours :) Can't wait to see your final thoughts on the book!

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