“You’re insufficiently dead,” he said.
“Insufficiently dead. You lack rupture with your life. You have no exit narrative.”
This is a playful story about being dead and being alive. It’s just a state, really. Thomas Barrett has been trapped in nothingness due to some… mistake. He is insufficiently dead according to his visit to ‘the office’ and for the time being will exist in a state most will never have the chance to experience. Returned to earth with the living for a window of three months, he has rules that if he doesn’t follow will incur ‘regrets’. He’s best to forget the heaviness of his other life, and just enjoy his time in the new one, as much as a person who doesn’t actually exist can. He must learn to let go of the past, the old life, that is for all intents and purposes extinguished.
Thomas first notices the girl at a coffee shop, captivated by her. He decides a ‘harmless crush from afar’ won’t incur regrets, nor harm anyone. Something about the girl with her dark hair, glasses, how she “doled out her attention” pulls him in. Unbeknownst to him, she doesn’t fully exist either, but her error is loneliness and not death. The reader is introduced to Rachel who first notices Thomas at the bus stop, who seems to have some strange energy about him and, she notices, wears the same outfit every single day. Free of romantic entanglements for a year, she works as a reference librarian enjoying the fantasy of love and how it should be more than it’s actual crushing reality. A daydreamer, who has ‘fallen in love with her own dreams’, the object of her fantasy is now the electric man at the bus stop. Catching sight of him fuels her desire that seems to ‘encompass the world’. Will it last? Or will her bubble burst? Despite her best efforts to ignore her wild attraction, a meeting takes place and so begins one strange romance between a man and woman who compliment one another in an impossible love story.
There is so much about himself he must keep hidden and not for the usual reasons men remain mum. He truly is not at liberty to tell her, but when his body begins to betray him revelations are impossible to avoid. Being with Rachel feeds the wish for Thomas to be more present, but it is a race against time. Rachel herself seems to be disappearing more in Thomas who is much like a daydream and nightmares haunt her sleep… love as mystery. But what will become of Rachel, is it possible she too could be on some strange edge of existence?
I enjoyed this novel, it’s a romance but the life vs death theme, the exploration of individual separateness and all that entails, made it a bit more meaty. Thomas may be insufficiently dead, but is Rachel insufficiently alive? Are many of us? Delightful.
Publication Date: February 4, 2020
Little, Brown and Company