In the year 2042, climate change has prompted new restrictions: no funerals, no burials, and everyone must be cremated. Unless the deceased was someone's only relation, the remains are the property of the state. Alma, 21, alone, unemployed, and mourning her mother, is determined to claim her ashes. In her quest, she befriends Bordelon, a homeless 19-year-old with her own losses and struggles, as well as several women who aid in their own unique ways.
Friedman's writing on grief, found family, and loyalty hits hard at times, but other details make this a perplexing read. Why is burial banned--and is cremation so much better for the climate? Why is public mourning also banned? Why are other details of the 20-year-on future basically unchanged from today (from vehicles to pop culture to phones)? The only difference here is the handling of the dead. None of these things are explained (though the loss of mourning rituals certainly reflects recent COVID-era experiences--perhaps it was the inspiration?). While the future setting falls a bit flat, I loved the characters, their relationships, and Friedman's handling of grief.
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Louisiana, 2042. Spurred by the effects of climate change, states have closed graveyards and banned burials, making cremation mandatory and the ashes of loved ones state-owned unless otherwise claimed. In the small town of St. Genevieve, Alma lives alone and struggles to grieve in the wake of her young mother Naomi’s death, during which Alma failed to honor Naomi’s final wishes. Now, Alma decides to fight to reclaim Naomi’s ashes, a journey of unburial that will bring into her life a mysterious and fiercely loyal stranger, Bordelon, who appears in St. Genevieve after a storm, as well as a group of strong, rebellious local women who, together, teach Alma anew the meaning of family and strength.
With poignance, poeticism, and deep insight in Here Lies, Olivia Clare Friedman gives us a stunning portrait of motherhood, friendship, and humanity in an alternate American South torn asunder by global warming. This is a stunning first novel from a unique and inventive writer.