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The Suicide Collectors / David Oppegaard

St. Martin’s Press / December 2008
Reviewed by: Rick R. Reed

Synopsis: 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.

Review: Tales of the world going to hell in a hand basket are not hard to find. If there isn’t already, there should be a genre called ‘Apocalyptic’ for books like The Stand, I Am Legend, Angel Land, The Road, Emergence, Oryx and Crake, and many others. So, it isn’t an easy task to wriggle in to territory already traveled by the likes of Stephen King, Cormac McCarthy, and Margaret Atwood and stake your claim with a debut novel in this vein.

But David Oppegaard is just ballsy enough to do so with The Suicide Collectors, his nourish post-apocalyptic version of a world that has been decimated by a plague known as The Despair. Oppegaard’s vision is bleak, inspired, and wholly original, a debut novel elevated to stand on its own, ready to take on the mantle of modern-day classic. No, I’m serious here. The Suicide Collectors is that good.

Unlike other visions of a bleak world where most of the population is wiped out, The Suicide Collectors does not rely on tried and true killers such as viruses or government wartime weapons gone awry. The Despair has engulfed the world with depression, deep dark depression that offers no relief except that found in suicide. We have faced the enemy and he is us.

Oppegaard puts it succinctly in this passage:

“Think of all the people who have died on this planet the past millions of years. Think of all the tortured souls who could, hypothetically, be walking the face of the planet…You add up all those souls and you have a lot of negative energy. Well, maybe all that negative energy has found a place to…unify in its desire for revenge on the living, breathing people who still enjoy a world they no longer have any access to…”

This is one of those books that succeed on more than one level: it’s a contemplation of death, a treatise on the bleakness that lives in all of our hearts, an homage to hope and human perseverance, and simply a damn good, page-turning read.

The Collectors themselves are evidence of the kind of chilling and horrific imagery debut author Oppegaard already commands. These are dark, hooded figures who come, like carrion, to collect the dead after yet another suicide has taken his or her own life. They are the stuff of nightmares and no one dares stand up to them, until at last, our hero—a regular guy named Norman—blows one of the Collector’s heads off when they come to take the body of his beloved wife, freshly dead from an overdose of sleeping pills. And thus begins the narrative impetus for the book, which is at once a journey, an escape, a road tale, and a kind of love story, but not between characters, but for the indefatigable well of life.

You can read this book as a thought-provoking commentary, a dire cautionary tale, or as a horror story (and its horrors are many…and fresh: images like wild, hatchet-wielding children, ghostly tankers filled with the recently dead, and a death-loving cult offering up its latest sacrifice to the insatiable and mysterious “Source” linger in the memory). On whatever level you read The Suicide Collectors, it is sure to remain with you, its spare prose and startling images cropping up days after you have closed the book.

Purchase The Suicide Collectors by David Oppegaard.

Columnist Rick R. Reed is the author of ten novels and has short fiction in more than twenty anthologies. He lives in Seattle, WA. Find out more about the author at his website.

Posted on Saturday, April 11, 2009 at 09:06AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine | Comments Off

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