371 pgs. / $27.00
A love story, a science fiction adventure, a fantasy world, and everything in between, Reincarnation Blues is one of the most enjoyable novels I have read since Nathan Hill’s The Nix, and anyone who doesn’t pick up this book has missed out on a real literary gem. Evocative of the constantly shifting, ephemeral nature of our modern world, Poore’s follow-up to Up Jumps the Devil (2012) remains timeless in its approach to questions that have perplexed humanity since our first ancestors uttered “I am.”
The novel’s primary story follows Milo, one of the oldest souls in existence, as he struggles to achieve perfection and become one with the Universe. As such an old soul, Milo has been reincarnated 9,996 times, and there are ominous signs that he may only have a few more chances to get it right. His journey, however, is complicated by the fact that, as such an old soul, he has found a great love in the one power he has met more than any other–death it, or in this case, her self. Most of the story’s complexity builds from Milo’s inability to let go of his love for Death, even it means he must be destroyed as a result.
Poore’s prose is cheerful and understated, often building entire realities in only a handful of words, and the worlds that Poore builds are magnificent and heart-wrenching. As Milo lives out his lives, readers are treated to events in the past, the present, the future, the possible future, alternative pasts, and any other combination that could be imagined. In Poore’s imagination, all time is simply a loop wherein souls can enter and re-emerge at will, bending the limits of what one can imagine and, at the same time, expanding them as well.
What makes Poore’s novel stand out, however, is the calm, jovial, Buddha-esque wisdom that sits in its center, like the warm heart of an ancient oak. The totality of the novel, as well as each mini-story that documents Milo’s past and present lives, is crafted to encourage readers to reconsider the nature of good and evil, the roles of heroes of villains, and the ups and downs of their lives within the broader context of a virtually never-ending cycle of life and death, even in the most dire of circumstances. As such, Reincarnation Blues views individual characters and their actions through the lens of an infinitely interconnected universe, where perspective and context are always more important than black and white notions of meaning and purpose.
Although it struggles at times with pacing, particularly in its central section, Michael Poore’s Reincarnation Blues is an incredibly imaginative, charming, and emotionally complex tale of love told 10,000 times, and it currently sits on my shelf as one of my favorite novels of 2017.