David Eagleman,
Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives
(Pantheon, 2009)

It's safe to assume we all have occasionally wondered what the afterlife, assuming there is one, is going to be like, but few of us have taken the speculation as far as David Eagleman. A neuroscientist, Eagleman has written Sum, a book of 40 pieces of flash fiction, each of which outlines a possible afterlife.

Each take on what comes next is different. In one, God is a man whose favorite book is Frankenstein because he identifies with what Dr. Frankenstein went through creating life. In another, the creator is an old married couple and, in yet another, we are the organs of the Almighty. In "Oz" you -- all of the tales are written in the second person, by the way -- find, as you enter the afterlife, a scroll that says you now have an opportunity to meet the Creator of the universe-- if you are brave enough. You proceed on a long journey, a quest, and emerge purified, ready to meet your maker, only to find nothing but a small yellow curtain where the Great Face used to be. The curtain pulls back and "a wrinkled hand pushes up glasses on the face of a wrinkled little man. He is gout-ridden, has a resting tremor, and a vial full of colorful ills. He is stooped. He is swaybacked and balding. You look at each other.

"He says, 'It is not the brave who can handle the big face, it is the brave who can handle its absence.'"

A small book, the size of a typical mass-market paperback, Sum offers a huge amount of imagination and fun. It is inventive, original and provocative. The only problem with reading it is that you want everyone to read it so you can talk about the riches and possibilities that it contains.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

13 June 2009

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