Book Review: The Postmortal

Written by Mark Peikert on . Posted in Arts & Film, Books.


Our obsession with youth reaches its ultimate climax in Drew Magary’s new novel, The Postmortal. An accidental scientific discovery reveals a way to render people ageless: Once injected with a serum, patients cease to grow older than their age at that moment. Suddenly, people worldwide remain in their twenties and thirties forever, rendering death from old age extinct.

But in Magary’s terrifyingly realistic telling, the newly ageless population marches inexorably to extinction. As the decades pass, John Farrell recounts, via blog posts and various other documents stored on not-yet-invented technology, what a population of perpetual youths does to the world. Terrorism, “population control” and nuclear holocausts are at the far end of the scary scale. But Magaray is a master at dropping into his narrative casual observances about how the world has changed in smaller ways. Bottles of water are $20; marauding hordes of homeless people routinely attack apartment buildings after nightfall for food; a new religious group that worships Man forms and quickly proliferates; and a pro-death vigilante group paints their skulls green and slashes their victims’ real birth dates into their skin as proof of their actual age.

Farrell, unmoored early on by the death of his best friend and the gradual destruction of societal niceties, drifts through the new world order without much to live for, eventually falling into “containment” work: euthanizing those who have had enough of endless youth and its consequences on the world. As his work drags him farther into the fringes of civilization and the years bring even more advanced medical breakthroughs, the novel grows darker and more menacing, climaxing with a terrifying dash for safety in the countryside.

Magary’s vision of future technology and science is eerily realistic, but his pop culture references remain rooted in the 20th century—the novel opens in 2019, but Magary makes Elvis references. It’s a rare misstep in a novel that takes a jaundiced, entirely plausible look at what the future could hold in store for us. By the time you finish, you’ll want to hold your loved ones close and stockpile bottles of water. If all else fails, you could potentially make a living selling them a few decades from now.

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