End Date: January 27th
Author: Michael Poore
Pages: 374 (hardcover)
Selected By: Elle Tea
“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. 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.”
“It’s not called ‘the afterlife,'” rasped Nan. “Because it’s the ‘before-life,’ too, isn’t it? It’s called Ortamidivalavalarezarationatpulsphere. Means ‘middle.'”
I’m so conflicted with this score. On the one hand, Reincarnation Blues has all of the makings of a really great book: it has an excellent pace, a good balance of humor and depth, a varied cast of characters (I’m considering each of Milo’s lives to be separate from the whole being that is technically “Milo”), a successful blend of cultures both real and fantastical, a motley of story arcs that touch on various times and places – again, both real and fantastical, and a lyrical flow to the overall writing style. It has more quotes worth mentioning than I’ve pulled from any of our selections in a while. It is entertaining, but it also touches on serious topics such as religion, economics, politics, and, of course, the two biggest questions humankind has had since we lurched up out of the sea: (a) what happens to us when we die?, and (b) what exactly does it mean to be a person?. It didn’t wow me enough to hit a five, but from that initial description, it would seem to warrant a solid four, yes?
“Wisdom,” said Nan, “is not the same as Perfection.”
But no. And to be honest, it’s taken me quite a few hours of sitting here, staring at this review, to really explain why. Halfway through, I was pretty sure it was a three-cupper. I couldn’t have told you why at the time – I quite liked it by that point, and I’d devoured most of that fifty-percent in the first day of really sitting down to read it. But it just didn’t pop. Nothing had jumped out at me to say, “This is great! You’re really enjoying this! You’d read this again!” And once I’d completed it, there was no doubt in my mind that this was a three-cupper…
“There’s no ‘them.’ The universe doesn’t have a judge or a landlord. It’s like a river. It flows and changes and does what it has to do to stay in balance.”
And I was so disappointed with myself. Not with Milo or Suzie or Reincarnation Blues as a whole…. but myself. For not liking it more. Because I should. I know in my heart I should. I just… don’t. I can’t. It’s not the material; if you’ve been following our wee book club for a while now, you know there’s not a lot that offends or distresses me: not being religious, I’m not offended or unpleasantly challenged in the least by the concepts of Samsara or the variety of other afterlife options in which people believe or have believed at varying points in history since the moment we looked up at the sky and felt the need to put something between us and that great infinite space. Likewise, death to me is not a disturbing subject; it is one of the few things we humans have in common with one another right out of the gate, so to speak, and beyond the obvious nasty organic side effect, it’s a mystery to every single one of us.
“When people try to destroy art or thought,” Milo explained, “it makes all forms of art and thought valuable. It’s a slippery slope once we start saying what people should or shouldn’t see. It’s a real evil, a thing with substance and power. I was helping to preserve people’s chance to see and to choose.”
But Reincarnation Blues is a three-cup book. Which isn’t bad – three cups means I liked it, and that’s good, right? Except it’s an unfortunate three-cup book: it has all the makings of a four, it has all the ingredients to make the perfect ciabatta loaf… but then it fumbles the ingredients, it rushes the process, and… the damn thing never rises.
“Sometimes,” she said, “the value of a life is in what it doesn’t do. Imagine if Hitler had resisted the voice inside him and spent his life keeping bees? What a great life.”
It’s Milo. Not all the separate Milos, but the Milo. Let me explain a bit: there are multiple Milos in every arc. There is the current Milo, the one who is actively physically living the life which makes up the chapter you’re reading; then there are the other Milos, the ones who came before or who have yet to come, all of whom have died already, each one a part of the nine-thousand-plus lives the Milo as a whole has known. Yes, even the ones in the future. Time in Reincarnation Blues is quantum but fluid, yet still all over the place… but you get the general idea (I hope).
“You are an angel!” gushed a local poet. “You are kind,” answered Abass, “but I am a scientist and a friend to man, something a hundred times greater.”
At any rate, the other Milos, the ones relegated to nothing more than guiding voices in the background, are quite entertaining. Each is armed with the experience of his own lifetime, as well as the wisdom that came from his own death and afterlife. But the Milo on which focus is drawn in each chapter, the Milo living life while walking around with all of the voices of the other Milos in his head, is usually a complete brat (and this still applies even in those situations when a Milo we knew only as a former Milo from a previous life is now the focus of the chapter). I know. It sounds complicated. It’s not, it’s really not. But it is a bit strange to try to explain.
Some economists, Milo noted, went around saying that if you helped rich people get richer and didn’t make them pay taxes, eventually that would help out the poor people, too. “That’s the economic version of Bigfoot,” Milo said on TV.
Hopefully you’re still with me. 🙂 So current Milo is almost always a brat. In nearly every life we witness, he comes across as a cocky teenager – regardless of his actual age. He is a cocky teenager as a kid, he is a cocky teenager as a grown man, he is a cocky teenage human when he is animals, he is a cocky teenager when he is in the afterlife and has all of his memories and histories readily available and at the fore of his mind. Current Milo is always the victim, he’s always the wronged party, and it’s always everyone else’s fault that his life / afterlife isn’t going the way he feels he deserves; it’s Nan’s fault, it’s Mama’s fault, it’s the universe’s fault, it’s the Buddha’s fault – current Milo always seems to be grumbling about the general unfairness of his situation. And following a cocky teenager full of bluster and bravado gets tiresome after a while, even if the voices inside his head are humorous, wise, and… well… usually right.
The big companies became the resource cartels that almost cannibalized the human race. There are things out there that certain people don’t want you to learn.
Suzie doesn’t do enough to make up for the current Milo of each chapter, either. As the anthropomorphic personification of Death itself (or a Death, at any rate), Suzie is, for the most part, present only in those chapters which take place in the afterlife. She is, as most humans are, a walking contradiction: she is distant, cold, and sad, but she is also compassionate, merciful, and joyful. Most importantly, she is willing to sacrifice everything – even her very existence – for the human she has grown to love. Suzie is, essentially (and ironically), more human than Milo.
“That’s not what enlightenment is. It’s not some mystical explosion. It’s noticing what’s going on around you, here and now, and you do that.”
In all the eons of their acquaintance, Death, a part of the infinite unknowable for whom all of these eons have been just a blip on the greater cosmic clock, has adapted enough to learn to relate to and fall in love with a flawed mortal creature… who in turn, in all of those eons, has learned… to sulk and rage and pout over the fact that they can’t just be together. Suzie seems to say at every turn, “Let’s just enjoy this moment,” to which Milo, in almost every instance, pretty much just flings up his hands and cries, “But it’s not fair! They’re picking on us! Let’s rebel again, because maybe the nine-thousand-and-fifty-second rebellion will work where the other nine-thousand-and-fifty-one rebellions failed!” Perhaps if she had been given more substance as a character, Suzie might have been able to offset the weight of the chip on Milo’s shoulder, but the spotlight is only ever firmly on the current incarnation of Milo, and that Milo alone.
… maybe you couldn’t get people to stop being predators, but you could get them to stop being prey.
And that’s why it’s a three and not a four. But it’s a beautifully written book, it truly is. And the concept is so intriguing that you can’t help but be drawn into it. Some of the arcs are funnier than others, some are more disturbing (for my fellow animal lovers out there, the chapter entitled Slaughterhouse contains some rather graphic – but thankfully brief – imagery of how people who choose to be employed in such places might entertain themselves while on the job), while some chapters, such as one near the end which focuses on a possible unfortunate future for our species, are heavy with thought-provoking material that is almost as difficult to face as the evening news.
Maybe things will change after this, and we can all stop living the same idiotic greedy mistakes over and over, lifetime after lifetime, and finally evolve into the kind of people who insist on living well.
All in all, I would strongly recommend this book to others, and I would read more by this author. Reincarnation Blues might not be the best book you’ll ever read, but the thoughts and emotions it provokes will stick with you long after you’ve turned the last page.
Elle Tea’s Favorite Character(s): The other Milos and the camel named Satan.
Elle Tea read the Amazon Kindle version of this selection.
Petting dogs was good for people; it was a scientific fact. Burt was a wise man, too, in his way. All animals are.
Hospitals had an unfortunate way of reducing people, he thought. Looking at Arlene Epstein in her bed, tissue-delicate, you’d never know that she had once been a legendary bartender, keeping rowdy tourists in line with a sawed-off hockey stick.
“The problem with a barracuda,” said Milo, “isn’t that you aren’t being mature. The problem is that it’s a barracuda. If you don’t like being in the boat with it, one of you has to go.”
She let him get away with it. That’s how people make friends.
“Nope. I have wanted to make candles since they were invented. I mean, it’s the greatest kind of sculpture. Say you made a candle of Michael Jackson, and it would be all cool and look just like him, and you’d show it to people, and they’d say, ‘Oh, that’s the cutest thing I ever saw,’ and then you could light it and watch his head melt. Candles are awesome.”
“The trouble with problem solving,” Aldrin often complained, “is that too many people are making money off the problems.”
[Thoughts on meditation:] Cats. Rain. Trees. Love. Dogs. His penis. Night.
The Master offered a weak smile. “I doubt very much,” he said, “that many happy people are assholes.”
“We’re supposed to watch people live and give them shit about it.”
BillMo’s Favorite Character(s): The voices in Milo’s head (aka, all of his past lives when they were coaching him along in a current life).
BillMo read the Amazon Kindle version of this selection.
My first thoughts on this book was, this a lovely distraction. I started it on my plane ride back from Nebraska, put it away as I delved hard into work but found that when I was alone and all was quiet, this made me chuckle quite a bit. The tale of reaching perfection is at the core of it and how to achieve it was vast and varied.
First for our host of characters, there is Milo, who is our “soul” that is reborn. Dependent on how he lived his previous life, determined the degree of drama or comfort in his next life. Mama- I suppose was to be Mother Earth and oddly authoritarian with a bit of hippy dippy to her. Nan- wasn’t sure who Nan was to represent, the Fates maybe? She’s pleasantly dour and I couldn’t help to giggle every time she sniped at Milo. Then there are a host of other characters that built the supporting cast nicely.
Our journey centers around Milo’s many journey’s/lives. Now the story does skip forward and backward and can be a bit confusing for the audio “reader”, but it made sense in a way. The author building the many ways a life could be led and how one can muck up said life is elegant, disconcerting and amusing. I liked the theme that a life well lived could be any circumstance, no matter how dire, could be amazing.
We start with Milo and the fact he has lived over eight thousand lives. Many have been good, noble and lending to his wisdom. Just as his selfish and quite frankly, ridiculous lives lending to the knowledge of the error of his ways. I started to question “how could he keep mucking it up when he does muck it up”. I hate to be that person but, a guy will muck it up because it is in his nature. However, if we delve further into it, is it deliberate so that he can be with his forbidden love, Susie?
Let’s sidebar into Susie for just a moment. Susie is Death. However, much like the television show, “Supernatural”, there are many agents of death or reapers if you will and she is one of many. She’s not the typical sort. She like’s the idea of being a proprietor of a business in their slice of afterlife. Whether it is a store for pottery or exotic fare that warrants no real clientele, she’s game to give it a try. She reluctantly gives herself over to the feelings she develops for Milo. However, just as she does with anything else, she throws herself completely into it. She tries to offer him advise and guidance as much as he will take it. She’s also sensitive to her charges. Trying to make the passing as gentle and caring as possible, despite the circumstances. Ultimate, this version of death is “love” in a sense, which I can appreciate, but I found her to be a bit annoying.
Where Susie lost the plot for me, is that she was so out of sync with her nature or maybe just super tired after eons, that she just has no desire to be her anymore. Actually, I shouldn’t say that she lost the plot, I think she was more human than Milo at times. She got washed out in her job, just like an average person. I could imagine growing weary of collecting souls and the stress it could cause (if she were in fact human). She allowed herself to “disappear” for the sake of her love of a man. Also, quite a human trait. While it was well done, it aggravated me a bit.
Back on course, Susie rightly guides Milo into leading his life into perfection or to achieve perfection. Now, the author shows that there are so many ways to achieve this perfection that even though you may have some moral qualms, you can say “well, he was perfectly diabolical”, “he was perfectly selfish”, “he was perfectly disturbed”, and so forth. Whether he is a unrepentant playboy to the martyr that shows the universe the misdeeds of a tyrant, it caused me to agree that a form of perfection did occur in each circumstance, whether I agreed with the form of it or not.
While I thought the book was pretty entertaining, I can’t quite put my finger on why this didn’t rise to above a three cupper for me. I wasn’t blown away, which would rule out the 5. I wasn’t so impressed that I thought it merited a 4. However, it was entertaining enough for me to appreciate the writing style, the flow of the story and the ultimate goal of the story. I would consider giving Poore another shot.
Lady Esbe’s Favorite Character(s): No one.
Lady Esbe listened to the Audible version of this selection.