Review of Darrell Schweitzer - Living with the Dead

Darrell Schweitzer is an American. I just thought I should mention that up front because this reads like European fiction, not American. Not saying anything is wrong with American fiction, it's just that an acceptance of whimsy as normality is not something you usually find in American fiction.

The story is set in a small coastal village. At random intervals the villagers awake to find a pile of dead at the docks. But unlike our world here the dead do not decompose and they are not buried and forgotten. The villagers, under direction from an unseen oppressive government dedicated to maintaining "the order of things", are required to give the dead a new home - to take them into their homes and treat them as guests.

This is not considered strange or repulsive, it's just the way it is. The villagers do not consider it onerous, it's just the way it is, the way it always has been and the way it always will be.

Another element you would normally associate with European writers over American is that, in truth, there is no all-encompassing plot. The novella briefly follows several of the villagers - a government official who discovers the most beautiful woman in the world amongst the dead, a schoolteacher determined to maintain order, a child in her class.

Each person has a little cameo tale, each interlinked, showing how they adapt to their lives amongst the dead. How they cope as new arrivals reduce the available living space they have more and more. We read of their taboos (mainly treating the dead with anything other than reverence), their fears and their desire to maintain a status quo, no matter how odd or difficult it may seem.

And whereas you could say there is a general them running through this, a feeling that you are viewing a momentous period in the lives of the villagers, there is no definite flow, no feeling that momentum is building towards an inevitable change.

Also despite the book being populated by the dead it's not a horror tale. This isn't a case of a voodoo priest reanimating corpses, or some evil sorcerer with plans of world domination. So don't go looking for a reason of why the dead appear, they just do. Accept it! Go with it! The reason for this phenomenon is not important, this story is at a much more human level. These are people, like you or I, just in a totally offbeat environment living their lives.

So if you're looking for a detailed plot and full resolution (a happy-ever-after ending), or a traditional horror tale with an easily-identifiable bad-guy I would say you're probably better off sticking to the mainstream. You'll miss out on an enchanting little tale though.


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