Michelle’s commentary on books, digital publishing and intersections between fiction & reality

Reading “How High We Go in the Dark” in Lake Balaton, Hungary

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The Book: How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu

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4.5/5 stars

*No spoilers

I’ve started to carve out a reading niche I really enjoy, and you’ll notice it’s present in the past couple of books I’ve read: many distinct narratives, science fiction elements, and a pandemic.

How High We Go in the Dark is even more experimental and bold in its writing style and content. Each chapter of the novel is told from a different perspective in a series of vignettes that sometimes connect. There is not a present, overarching plot that connects everything the same way a lot of other books I’ve read have.

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Nagamatsu began writing this book back in 2011. The story begins after a 30,000-year-old Arctic plague is accidentally uncovered and devastates society. We learn how this affects people in a myriad of ways. Some stories are often chillingly relatable to our own, ongoing pandemic.

But, Nagamatsu’s pandemic is much more fatal, and primarily targets children. We see how commerce adapts to capitalize on this newfound industry. One narrator works at an amusement park that sends ill children to their death by means of a euthanization rollercoaster. Another narrator repairs robo dogs that hold the voices of their departed loved ones.

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The stories are devastating. They are emotional, they are heartbreaking, and they are downright tragic. This book was a really tough read, but Nagamatsu did the content justice.

The ending to the book is the only thing that disappointed me a bit. I think the book was strong on its own as these vignettes, but the ending attempted to circle back to the beginning and provide a more conventional, storyline ending. It felt clunky and out of place and I wish the novel hadn’t fallen off at the end.

The writing style isn’t for everyone — and it may not have even been for me a few months ago. But it fit well into the stories I’ve been enjoying lately.

Favorite Quotes

  • “And remember,” the voice said, “what is laughter but a moment of release where pain and memory are washed away? When we laugh, we are stronger. When we laugh, we heal the world.”
  • Outside of my tiny life I could feel the world reaching for the light—after an unexpected wave of thunderstorms, the air was marginally comfortable to breathe again, washed from the veil of wildfire smoke.
  • “This planet is our home,” she’d said over dinner a few nights after the accident. “I’m not leaving just because we can.”
  • Maybe in the far reaches of space, crazy ideas are perfectly normal.
  • He wonders what proportion of happy moments to sad ones is necessary for a person to sincerely want to keep living
  • Sometimes people and places serve a purpose for a finite amount of time to help you think and grow and love and then you move on.

The Place: Lake Balaton, Hungary in May

I’ve been to Lake Balaton once before, in January, so it was nice to visit with more friendly weather. I got to attend a Hungarian wedding (as the bartender’s date) and it was a lot of fun.

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I helped make drinks and met a nice American/Hungarian couple. The girl was from the U.S. as well and didn’t speak any Hungarian, so I spent a lot of the night with her. She was from Vegas actually, which was a funny coincidence.

Not a lot to say about Balaton—though I know I’ll be back. We had just the one night here and it was spent mostly at the wedding and just walking around the nearby town a bit.

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Michelle Newblom
About the Author

Michelle is fascinated by the power of the written word, the weight language holds and how influential writing can be. She has experience working in all different realms of publishing—including newspapers, magazines, blogs and research journals.

Feel free to contact her at mnewblom@gmail.com

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