Dostoevsky meets Terry Pratchett— The Life and Death (but Mostly the Death) of Erica Flynn is a surreal tale with a twisted sense of humor that makes room for emotional depth, and does so with pacing and aplomb.
But first things first—the novel tells the story of a young woman who dies in a car accident after an argument with her husband. She finds herself trapped in an anguished afterlife, having left the love of her life in the midst of a conflict.
She discovers this is doubly unfortunate, because death is not what she could have expected, with the potential to be not all so bad, had she not been cursed with unfinished business. Sara Marian paints a mural of the land of Hades that would not make Hieronymus Bosch blush so much as raise his eyebrows by positing, “I see your scary triptych, and raise you a carnival of laughing souls (albeit with some equally freaky landscapes in the background…)”
Riffing vaguely on a Greek mythology theme, she gives us a portrait of death that is a lot like life, where souls start out in the city of Hades, an urban landscape that’s sort of a Lower Manhattan meets Coney Island amusement park. A “River Styx” runs through it, and the currency among the dead is something called “joy swapping,” where each soul can recall a memory of an amazing experience and transfer it to the soul from whom they are purchasing a similar experience. For protagonist Erica, this means a wallet full of perfectly toasted marshmallows.
Without offering too many spoilers, this is just a “taste,” as it were, of the kind of surreal curveballs Marian’s prose throws readers ready to buckle up for the ride (though it’s not so much a roller coaster as it is a Ferris wheel spinning inside a room full of funhouse mirrors). That’s not to say there aren’t thrills—any novel that features a hardcore swordfight with a creature dubbed the “Pepto Bismol monster” qualifies as action-packed.
But Erica’s quest—to fool the control-freak god Hades into letting her journey back to the land of the living in order to take care of her unfinished business—delves deeper into the topics of time, experience, fear, and regret than we sometimes get from your average fantasy read. This is also where it wanders into the Dostoevsky-esque themes. The novel answers existential anguish by championing how our imperfections can sometimes be our strengths, and offers that often the best riposte to what is frightening is what is funny.
So give Life and Death of Erica Flynn a read in order to experience what it’s like to feel heavy and light at the same time, a paradox as impossible, yet pleasurable, as simultaneously being alive and dead. Don’t believe it can’t be done—Erica Flynn will show you it can.
Carl R. Moore is the author of Chains in the Sky and Slash of Crimson and Other Tales, published by Seventh Star Press