We are all going to die, and even worse, those we love are all going to die. Although everyone knows this, few people dwell on their mortality. For most people, the end does not seem near and we believe that our future stretches out in front of us. This is especially true in the modern western world, where disease and the ravages of war seem remote. However, the ravages of disease only seem remote. While bacterial disease is largely conquered, viruses, like HIV and Ebola, are incurable. The choices people make and the way they live their lives in the face of plague, where death is no longer remote, but ever present, is the topic of Shariann Lewitt's book Memento Mori. The main city of the planet Reis has suffered an outbreak of a deadly viral disease. The mode of transmission is unknown and there is no cure. People start dying and the planet is quarantined. Even commerce with the out lying farming communities is restricted. Like the Algerian city of Oran, in Camus' book The Plague, the city is cut off and left to its own devices.
Shariann Lewitt's beautifully written Memento Mori is told through the stories of the regulars of Metz Club. They are bright underachievers, who wear black cloths and talk about creating art in response to the plague. But they do little more than talk. Where Camus' characters struggle to seize life and hope in the face of mass death, Lewitt's descend into nihilistic darkness. Instead of making what they can of their lives in the face of their mortality, the characters in Memento Mori become obsessed with death itself. Although some of them attempt to fight the tide of darkness, in the end, it flows over them all. Memento Mori is a dark book and I found its ending obscure.
Ms. Lewitt captures the absurdity of "Goths" in black cloths, hanging out in clubs, forming cliques and doing little more than talking. Her characters are all struggling to become something more than they are. Perhaps they are struggling to grow up. Her beautiful writing and well drawn characters make Memento Mori worth reading, but it provides only shallow and unsatisifying answers to the human struggle with mortality.
Ian Kaplan - 3/96
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