How High We Go in the Dark

Morrow. Jan. 2022. 304p. ISBN 9780063072640. $27.99. F
DEBUT Following his short story collection Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone, Nagamatsu’s exceptional debut novel reads as if it were from the pen of a more seasoned author. It keeps to the short form, as it is something of a collage novel. Following its bravura opening—an ancient plague is reawakened from the melting permafrost of Siberia—the narrative jumps ahead a few years with each successive chapter, charting the world’s devastation as a roster of characters navigate myriad social and personal collapses. Nagamatsu masterfully folds more conceptual dystopian stories—reminiscent of George Saunders’s early 2000s short story work—into the novel’s broader climate and pandemic fiction story line, stacking his narratives and lending a sheen of surreality to even the most science-heavy moments. The result is an appealing mélange of literary and science fiction, with rich, mournful language aiding the imaginative strokes. This work reflects the best of what short fiction can accomplish, sketching memorable characters and settings with economy, but Nagamatsu manages to excel equally in the long form, subtly linking his narratives into a handsome whole. If at the end there’s no denying the bleakness, Nagamatsu importantly resists nihilism, consistently finding beauty and meaning in the darkness, even at the end of the world.
VERDICT A frightening, moving work about what it means to be human while staring down our own extinction. Essential.
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