From the black death to the influenza of 1918 that basically stopped the world in its tracks, plagues and contagion fascinate me. The thing I find absolutely amazing is that history really does repeat itself. Plagues still exist but at least we now have medicines to combat the flu. Our medicines don’t seem to combat the sheer terror about epidemics that wash over us when we hear the dreaded word plague, however. Remember when swine flu was a threat everywhere and we panicked that the sneezing guy in front of us at the grocery check out was going to kill us all?
In David Oppegaard’s debut novel The Suicide Collectors, a disease appropriately called the Despair has ravaged the world. The Despair causes people to kill themselves, felling them like influenza. The Despair knows no limits. There is no rhyme or reason for the suicide epidemic. Entire families are wiped out overnight. Even the most optimistic people, those who continually see the glass as half full, are not spared.
Norman has remained in the same neighborhood since the Despair rolled through. He, his wife and many neighbors have gone on with their lives as though nothing has changed. Norman goes fishing one morning only to return home to find his wife curled up in their bed with an empty pill bottle on the nightstand. A mysterious group of people in dark robes known as the collectors arrive nearly within minutes of his wife’s suicide. They gather up the body as quiet as monks contemplating the gospels.
The Collectors feed the victims of the Despair to the “source”, an entity that thrives on death. Norman snaps and kills one of the Collectors as they take his wife’s body away. It’s the first time anyone has killed a Collector. Norman knows that he will have a bounty on his head for the killing. He decides to put on his dancing shoes and boogey on out-of-town.
Over the years there have been rumors of a cure for the Despair by a scientist in Seattle. Norman, along with his neighbor, head out from Florida to reach Seattle. What follows is a trek through a dead landscape, the urban cities returning to the wild, people chasing their own shadows and every one of them terrified they might break down and take their own lives. The Collectors dog his heels with every step. His hope that there is a cure in Seattle drives Norman to continue on when most people would give in to the Despair.
The Suicide Collectors has a magnetic pull, a nearly hypnotic draw. You’re right there with Norman, surviving and keeping the smallest ember of hope alive. I would recommend this book to anyone who has lost a little of their everyday hope and needs to be reminded that being alive is a downright precious thing and not merely a chore, something to get through because nothing seems to be on the horizon waiting to save you.