Be Careful What You Wish For

 

Novelist Drew Magary creates a world where life is extended, for better and worse

By Pat Sims
 

The Postmortal
The Postmortal
Drew Magary ’98
Penguin (2011)

We live in an overcrowded, contentious world, one in which children starve, soldiers die, and the globe is warming. But wait—it could get worse. That’s the frightening punch packed by Drew Magary ’98 in his story of a dystopian future. Yet he keeps this debut novel from becoming a predictable slog by weaving bits of humor into the mix and examining all the ripple effects—from prosaic to profound—of artificially extended life.

It’s 2019, and those with disposable income are rushing to take the cure. True, the treatment is expensive and consists of a series of painful shots, but the reward seems worth it: it stops the aging process. While the cure doesn’t promise eternal life—it’s still possible to succumb to disease or be killed—it seems to guarantee bonus time on earth. And that’s enough for 29-year-old Manhattan lawyer John Farrell, who quickly realizes he wants it “more than I had ever wanted anything.”

Not everyone is so gung ho. The Pope has weighed in against it, groups are posting signs warning “Immortality Will Kill Us All,” and as the cure spreads worldwide, so do the riots against it.

Despite the nagging clamor, things initially seem good for those who have taken the cure. Life stretches out before them, promising the opportunity to travel the world for years at a time, marry repeatedly, indulge without guilt. Like his cure compatriots, Farrell gains in experience as the years go by while never showing his true age.

Still, the negatives of the cure become increasingly obvious. Populations begin to soar and stockpiling is widespread. Bad judgment abounds (a woman infatuated with the charms of babyhood gives her daughter the cure at the age of eight months), and so do disappointments (Farrell’s father gets the cure, but soon regrets it, saying, “I’m old and I’m tired and I hate waking up to that reality every day”). News flashes sprinkled throughout the book report on other cure downsides: an actress has been murdered by her understudy, “who was apparently uninterested in an eternal apprenticeship,” and “sales of adult incontinence undergarments ... have fallen 46 percent since 2016.”

By the end of this cautionary tale, Farrell has come to terms with his integrity, his loyalty, and exactly how far he will go to help his fellow man. And for readers, the idea of everlasting life—even with an unlined face—may not be so appealing anymore.

 
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