Have people finally given up? Are they choosing to die? After a wedding in New York when a woman sits down in the middle of the dance floor and refuses to move, all over the country people start doing the same. Soon it’s a pandemic, with “catatonic events” happening worldwide.
Yun, Emory, Fin and Andrew attend the wedding; their lives entwine as the “psychogenic death experience” takes hold of society and the story follows them along a sinister end of the world trajectory. The novel doesn’t just ask how we can exist in a doomed world but how we can love a damaged person, interrogating their intense, tangled relationships.
Yun is anxious, always one rent payment away from trouble, dissatisfied with himself and everyone in his life. Emory is a journalist, hungry for the cachet that access to patient zero will bring her, tempered by revulsion with herself, the media and its consumption. Andrew is repressed, his Christian upbringing meaning he lives like he’s always accountable to someone unseen. Fin is the youngest, a dancer whose father issues and a tendency towards self-sabotage voice a kind of longing in the book.
There is an aloofness, an observational eye at work here in what some find is a generational literary slant toward icy, analytic introspection. There is some truth to this, as the messy psychological and emotional intestines of the four friends are drawn out and dissected in the text. The style suits the substance, the voice of 20 and early 30-somethings asking themselves what’s the point of planning work or family in a world that will be “a cremator in fifty years”.
Are some people unable to bear the weight of a blighted future and simply sit down, in an act of refusal? The friends all react differently to the dystopia unfolding around them, whether through anxiety, shame, or fear, while society gives in to conspiracy theories, wild speculation and a grotesque capitalist commentary on how catatonia might benefit the economy.
The novel is compared with Never Let Me Go, but rather than that long achy aftertaste of Ishiguro, there is a harder edge, more tannin on the tongue, as it asks what Camus said was the only important philosophical question: whether to live or die.