Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Written by David Oppegaard
Published by St. Martin’s Press
It seems like everyone and their brother are coming up with new ways for the world to end these days; from zombies to meteors to floods, so when I read the premise of Oppegaard’s The Suicide Collectors, I was what you might call “cautiously intrigued”.
It’s the near future and 90% of the world’s population has killed themselves. A rash of suicides starting with a mass seppuku in Japan (of course, they start all the best trends) has effectively brought the human race to an end. It’s been five years since the worst of it, but people are still ending their own lives on an almost daily basis, and seemingly no one is immune.
Our protagonist, a Florida resident named Norman, returns from an early morning fishing trip to find that his wife is the latest to lose hope of winning the human race, which leaves him alone with his next-door neighbor, Pops, another man who’s tapped into all his available resources to find a reason to wake up every morning. The two of them plan to bury Norman’s wife as soon as possible, as they have with most of their friends in town, before The Collectors can take her.
Ever since we started killing ourselves, you see, a group of silent, hooded men and women have been showing up to take our bodies away to an undisclosed location. They’ve gotten away with it thanks to the overall apathetic viewpoint that has seeped into the human spirit (more prominent than it is now, if you can believe it), but when they come to take Norman’s wife, Norman fights back. He shoots one, blows his head clean off, but The Collectors don’t retaliate; they take the Collector’s body with them and leave. In their helicopter. Resourceful, these guys are.
Norman and Pops decide to make their way from Florida to Settle, where a drifter told them a few months earlier a new society was being built made up of survivors, and a cure was being researched. On the way they learn that Norman is the first that anyone who’s still alive is aware of, who has killed a Collector, and he’s something of a hero. Of course, The Collectors know about him, as well so the travelers (they also find a young girl along the way who joins them, for that “kid sympathy” angle) run into all sorts of problems trying to get to their destination.
The major problem I had with The Suicide Collectors, and honestly every other apocalypse novel I’ve read as of late, is that while it’s trying to nail that “epic scope on a small scale” feel, it just never really gets there. And while the cause behind the world ending is original enough to warrant attention to the story as a whole, to me it seemed like Oppegaard had a really good idea for an end-of-the-world book but just didn’t know how to go all the way with it.
For one thing it’s hard to build sympathy for Norman as his character is fairly two-dimensional, and he never really has the sort of reaction to things you would expect. It could be explained away because he’s been through so much that he’s numb to anything but extreme situations, or it could just be stunted character development, it’s hard to tell which.
Conversely, Oppegaard’s vision of this post-apocalyptic world covers all the bases you’d hope it does, from disillusioned tribes forming cults to feral children, and some you wouldn’t expect, like the scene where they come across a house literally covered in the one long suicide note. Though the actual cause of the mass suicides its never fully explained, what he does reveal is satisfyingly bizarre to be worthy of the journey to it.
For a debut novel, The Suicide Collectors showcases an author with a lot of promise, despite some of the book’s character drawbacks. That is the most common stumbling block of a first novel anyway, and believe me it’s far better and more skillfully written than most debuts I’ve read.
3 1/2 out of 5
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