Life After Death After Death: A Review of Reincarnation Blues

Reincarnation Blues (2017)
Written by: Michael Poore
Genre: Science Fantasy
Pages: 371 (Hardcover)
Publisher: Del Rey

Why I Chose It: I literally judged this book by its cover. I was browsing in the science fiction/fantasy section of the Barnes & Noble and picked it up because I liked its colorful and unique cover.

The premise:

First we live. Then we die. And then . . . we get another try?

Ten thousand tries, to be exact. Ten thousand lives to “get it right.” Answer all the Big Questions. Achieve Wisdom. And Become One with Everything.

Milo has had 9,995 chances so far and has just five more lives to earn a place in the cosmic soul. If he doesn’t make the cut, oblivion awaits. But all Milo really wants is to fall forever into the arms of Death. Or Suzie, as he calls her.

More than just Milo’s lover throughout his countless layovers in the Afterlife, Suzie is literally his reason for living — as he dives into one new existence after another, praying for the day he’ll never have to leave her side again.

But Reincarnation Blues is more than a great love story: Every journey from cradle to grave offers Milo more pieces of the great cosmic puzzle — if only he can piece them together in time to finally understand what it means to be part of something bigger than infinity. As darkly enchanting as the works of Neil Gaiman and as wisely hilarious as Kurt Vonnegut’s, Michael Poore’s Reincarnation Blues is the story of everything that makes life profound, beautiful, absurd, and heartbreaking.

Because it’s more than Milo and Suzie’s story. It’s your story, too.

Spoilers Ahead.


Discussion: My favorite thing about this book was its kooky sense of humor. The shark that eats Milo in the first chapter “had been an ocean perch in a former life. It had been food of all kinds. It had been the Strawberry Queen for the 1985 Strawberry Festival in Troy, Ohio” (p.6). Suzie, the incarnation of death that Milo is in love with, wants to quit being Death and open up a candle shop in the afterlife. Suzie finds that “Presbyterians and hamsters, for example, both preferred a quick, no-nonsense death” (p. 111).

The theology in Reincarnation Blues is a confusing hodgepodge. The ultimate goal is to attain perfection and merge with the “Oversoul.” You have 10,000 tries to get it right. Why it’s 10,000 and not ten or one million is never explained and what constitutes perfection is also a mystery. Suzie is Death but she isn’t the only version of death. There is an afterlife but you don’t spend your time there sitting on a cloud worshipping God or being tortured by demons. The afterlife is more of a waiting room until you decide to be born again. Mama and Nan are the guardians there but it’s not exactly clear what or who they are. You can do normal things in the afterlife, and Milo spends most of his time there having sex with Suzie. I found it easy to just go with the flow of the jumble of religious beliefs, but I don’t know all that much about reincarnation to start with.

I wish that Poore had been more audacious with the premise. It’s mentioned that Milo has lived lives on earth as a woman, a cricket, and a catfish but whenever we see one of his complete lives, he is a teen to middle-aged man named Milo. The brief description “He didn’t always get to grow up before dying. He knew what it was like to spend all summer at Children’s Hospital, with his hair falling out, and to die holding Charles, his toy alligator” (p. 15) absolutely gutted me. I felt cheated that I didn’t get to see Milo’s more interesting lives. I also wanted to see more from Suzie’s perspective because she was the fascinating character, not Milo. We get her point-of-view in a few brief chapters, but I never understand why Death herself fell in love with Milo because he’s really kind of a basic bro.

There was one aspect of the book that I truly hated. In one of his lives, Milo has consensual sex with a girl named Ally who then falsely accuses him of rape. He is tried as an adult and sent to a horrible prison. Milo is rescued from the prison when Ally admits that she lied. I’m not an advocate of telling writers what they can and cannot write about. I’m sure there could be a well-written, compelling storyline about a false rape accusation. But this lie about rape was completely unnecessary to the plot. This is a life that takes place in the year 3417! The terrible prison is located on an asteroid! The only part that is needed is for Milo be unjustly accused of a crime, sent to prison, and then snatched away before he can improve the prison enough to obtain perfection. Why couldn’t the crime be murder or drug dealing or theft? It’s the far distant future; Poore was free to make spitting your gum on the sidewalk or jay-walking a serious crime. There was no reason to perpetuate the myth that women lie about rape all the time. This incident left a sour taste in my mouth and prevented me from enjoying the book as much as I otherwise would have.

In conclusion: This funny, offbeat book reminded me of the writing of Carl Hiassen and Christopher Moore. Reincarnation Blues would make an excellent beach read, but I think it’s a stretch to include it as one of the best science fiction books of 2017, as NPR did. There was some sexism in the book that I found incredibly off-putting, but I would still read another book by Michael Poore.

2 Comments

  • Shara White January 11, 2018 at 1:18 pm

    Sounds like a really fun premise!

    Reply
  • Lane Robins January 16, 2018 at 9:01 pm

    It is a really striking cover. I can’t blame you for picking it up.

    Reply

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