As Peter Parker once sagely mused, “This story, like any worth telling, is all about a girl.” Suzie, the girl at the center of Michael Poore’s Reincarnation Blues, brings souls to the afterlife as a physical manifestation of Death. She collects souls at the end of their lives so they can return to life in another form. Milo, her human boyfriend, hooks up with her in the times between his death and the beginning of the next life. It gets weird. Intertwining layers of fantasy, space opera, and homebrewed mythology wrap themselves around this bizarre cosmic love story as Milo struggles to achieve perfection so that he and Suzie can finally spend eternity together.
Milo, like all humans, gets 10,000 chances to live a perfect life before he gets “canceled like a stupid TV show” into nonexistence. He lives (in no particular order) as a cricket, a superhero cyborg, a psychopathic slaughterhouse worker, a beach bum, and many, many more. Suzie watches patiently for years and only lives a human life once just before the book’s climax (though she does hang out with Francis of Assisi for a little bit). Through Milo’s many perspectives, the story bounces around from ancient India to the distant future to 1960s Ohio and all over the place.
Which, for its’ strange twists, make it all the more disappointing when these lives repeat themselves. The details change, but the story focuses on a future where Milo gets stomped by people richer and stronger than himself an awful lot. When used sparingly, the tragic moments in the narrative can strongly resonate – Milo’s prison life, for example – but by the time Milo lands on a radioactive island where he can barely eat, his passivity has grown stale. The lives where Milo screws up occasionally get glossed over by the times when every other person in his life hates him without really having motive.
Such a weird premise for a book would not hold up without a few laughs – say, 300 pages’ worth. The humor and irreverence in this book’s tone carried the bizarre plot through to the end. Milo finds himself living such absurd situations as a cobbler who car bombs Nazis and Communists, but never gets caught because everyone finds him too normal. The calm, matter-of-fact deadpan voice that narrates these weird events casually piles them onto the reader until a sense of normalcy emerges.
The timing between the frequent jokes suggests a master comic. Readers who appeal to a sense of humor that presents a Buddha who thinks about cats when meditating or ruminates on the acquired taste of cheap beer will enjoy this book. While almost 400 pages sound like a good space of time, a solid weekend alone with Milo and Suzie should be enough for most readers.
Three out of five stars. An off-the-wall setting makes for easy escapism.
Recommend for: Anyone with more than one shelf full of Terry Pratchett books.
Page count: 371
Favorite quote: “She took his hand, and some love traveled up his arm and burst inside him like a galaxy. For a moment, he contained wonders and stars and time, and could speak Spanish, and existed in twenty dimensions. He also began to explode a little.”