Review

The Suicide Collectors

by David Oppegaard

I will begin my review of THE SUICIDE COLLECTORS by telling you
that 1) this debut novel by David Oppegaard is flawed, almost
fatally so, and 2) you have to read it anyway. The plot concept is
so clever and frightening that you’ll have difficulty getting
it out of your head.

Let’s get the flaw out of the way quickly. In THE SUICIDE
COLLECTORS, a worldwide calamity has struck and has been plaguing
the earth for about five years, with most of the world’s
population inexplicably dying. But everything such as electric
power, water purification and the like still seems to work just
fine. No way. Our infrastructure is extremely fragile, and without
people from the utility companies who maintain and repair it on a
daily basis, we would be sitting around campfires roasting Rover
more quickly than you think. Jump the shark on that plot point,
however, and you find that the book is a horrific little cautionary
tale reminiscent stylistically of Robert Heinlein and topically of
THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy.

The place and time of THE SUICIDE COLLECTORS is the United
States in the immediate future. A collective madness known as the
Despair is claiming the human race. It began with a mass suicide in
Japan and spread across the globe. As the book opens, most folks
are dead by their own hands. An eerie group referred to as the
Collectors appears after each suicide and claims the body or bodies
for disposal. You don’t want to mess with them. They are not
benevolent individuals riding ox carts through the streets chanting
“Bring out your dead.” One of the few to take a stand
against the Collectors is a gentleman named Norman, a resident of
the state formerly known as Florida.

After an almost impulsive action against the Collectors, Norman
and his neighbor (known only as Pops) set out on a cross-country
journey to Seattle, Washington, literally on a wing and a prayer.
Their motivation is a rumor that a Seattle scientist is working on
a cure for the Despair. Along the way they are joined by a young
girl named Zero and pursued by the Collectors, who have placed a
bounty on Norman for his actions. The journey, by and large,
is a nightmarish one. The Despair is relentless, and people have
reacted to it in different, horrific ways. Think of L. Frank
Baum’s THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ merged with Jerzy
Kosinski’s THE PAINTED BIRD, and you’ll anticipate what
they encounter. This is only the beginning, however. What Norman
ultimately finds when he finally reaches Seattle is that the
Despair can be stopped, but only at a great price.

I can see THE SUICIDE COLLECTORS as one of those novels that
follows a trajectory similar to that of Heinlein’s STRANGER
IN A STRANGE LAND, one that begins as a cult favorite among fans of
speculative fiction, then invades and captivates the mainstream
consciousness. At heart a metaphoric work, it is a book with which
almost everyone can identify. Who among us hasn’t heard the
hum of the Despair at one point or another? Read THE SUICIDE
COLLECTORS, and be forewarned.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011

The Suicide Collectors
by David Oppegaard

  • Publication Date: December 9, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • ISBN-10: 0312381107
  • ISBN-13: 9780312381103