A first novel about the travails of a young Louisiana woman mourning her mother’s death in the 2040s, when human burial has become illegal.
The near future Friedman creates is less extreme than ones found in other recent cautionary dystopias. Instead, what may scare readers is how normal narrator Alma’s world seems in light of the U.S.'s current problems. In fact, 22-year-old Alma's lifestyle and entertainment references—the same fast food, the same golden oldies considered oldies today—make the fabric of daily life in the present and future seem pretty much the same. One change mentioned more than once is that Louisiana’s football teams have stopped playing. And of course there are the continuing ravages of climate change—trees lost to storms, hoarding due to empty store shelves. Parts of Louisiana are uninhabitable. Alma’s major concern, however, is that the increasingly authoritarian government—its political affiliation left ambiguous—has taken control of graveyard land; laws now require the dead to be cremated, their ashes stored by the state, with few exceptions. Alma takes up the cause of dead people’s rights and freedom of burial choice. Her mother, who died a year earlier, was cremated although she’d wanted a burial. After Alma’s application for a dispensation to keep the urn of her mother’s ashes is turned down, she becomes involved with a secret idealistic group of Catholic burial rights activists. She also takes in homeless, pregnant 19-year-old Bordelon, who is mourning the death of the grandmother who raised her. Both Bordelon and Alma had lousy boyfriends and fathers who abandoned them; their activist friend Josephine’s husband abused her. More problematic than the heavy-handed victimhood is the narrowness of Alma’s vision, which seems unconcerned with major issues like racism or deaths caused by natural disasters and starvation. But the temptation to consider this a satirical fable is undercut by the earnest tone.
Despite some lovely prose, Friedman’s dystopia-lite comes across as less shocking than shallow.
Praise for Here Lies:
“Friedman’s poetic novel explores mourning, memory and motherhood in a future Louisiana that has been ravaged by climate change… [The reader] becomes immersed in Friedman’s layered and luscious prose, the vibrant colors of Alma’s world, the flowers so real ‘you could smell their rankness, the air brimming with sweet, candied stink.’ Most captivating, though, is the stillness and quiet — lines that end abruptly and the images that conjure a deafening silence — representations of the graveyards that no longer exist, but whose absence is haunting.” — New York Times Book Review
“A poignant portrait of the way grief can bring people together, uniting even strangers through a common pain and commitment to keep their loved ones alive in memory…Even in this place where ‘we'd turned against the earth that now turned against us,’ where the struggle for survival has caused the country to turn its back on what made it a civilization, there is some beauty and mercy left. “ – NPR
“Vividly imagined…Friedman’s novel poses questions about the replacement of traditional expressions of grief and the possibilities of women to reimagine the future.” — National Book Review
“Stunning and evocative …Exploring the potential physical ramifications of, and social reactions to, global warming, Here Lies is a tender examination of the enduring bonds of humanity amid a bleak and dystopian future." — Atlanta Journal Constitution
“Friedman’s use of language is simply stunning. She possesses a lyricism that mesmerizes the reader enough to simultaneously speed read and yearn to read at a glacial pace. Perhaps this is the ethereal beauty of a poet venturing into fiction writing. If so, I will henceforth be reading exclusively poet-written novels." — Jackson Clarion-Ledger
“Illuminating and startling.”—Publisher’s Weekly
“Friedman follows up her lauded short story collection, Disasters in the First World (2017), with a debut novel set in Louisiana in the near future, when burials have been outlawed, and cremated remains have become the property of the state . . . A beautifully told tale of grief and loss made bearable by the unexpected creation of a found family.”—Booklist
“Here Lies is a novel of both big ideas and intimate moments. At the same time speculative and familiar, the book sews patterns of longing and loss into a shape that anyone who has ever needed and found a non-traditional family will recognize and cherish. Like most great books to come out of the South, the relentless skill and grace of the author makes a simple story of Louisiana transcend far beyond its borders. Make no mistake: Olivia Clare Friedman is one of the most singular voices in American literature and this book, like all of her work, belongs in your hands.”—M.O. Walsh, New York Times Bestselling author of My Sunshine Away and The Big Door Prize
“Here Lies is a work of astonishing, exacting beauty that captures both the pinhole longing of personal grief and the expansive pleasure of closely observed, deeply felt moments between women. Friedman writes the kind of prose you want to till and turn over with your hands—sentences so lush and exquisite they deserve to be held up and cherished in sunlight.”— Kimberly King Parsons, author of Black Light
“Olivia Friedman’s precision, earthy humor and clear-eyed tenderness for outsiders and oddballs combine in this sparkling debut, as an isolated young woman finds unexpected connection in her search to bury her mother, an act forbidden by law in an alt-future Louisiana.”—Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander
“Here Lies compounds past, present, and future, the universal threat of the climate crisis with the more intimate storms of loneliness and loss. Here is a subtle, surprising portrait of female friendship, of possibility in impossible times. Clare Friedman, with a poet's ear, offers readers not just dazzling language, but also a keen sense of empathy and a rich understanding of the human heart. “—Emily Nemens, author of The Cactus League
Praise for Disasters In The First World
"Insightful . . . so well crafted . . . makes me want to pick up whatever Clare publishes next." ―New York Times Book Review
"Lyrical and elegiac . . . Her stories unfold in wonderfully astonishing turns . . . Tender yet occasionally biting." ―Shelf Awareness (starred review)
"Olivia Clare is pure literary dynamite." —Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander
“Clare's fiction has a spryness and a wryness one could describe as Barthelme-esque, without so much of DB’s arch, sometimes off-putting minimalism. Clare’s fiction has closely observed sympathy that could be described as Munro-esque, with a tick-tock contemporaneity that evokes early ‘80s Beatty. What we're getting at is that there’re a lot of ins and outs to this case.” ―Houston Post
“Clare’s debut short story collection explores the lives of varied characters―lovers, family, and tenants; the links they forge with others; and the odd, confounding worlds they inhabit . . . In these thoughtful tales, Clare, winner of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award and an O. Henry Prize, presents characters who, instead of begging for sympathy, seem to desire clarity.” ―Booklist
“Intimate and incisive . . . Clare’s characters are believable in their frailty and vulnerability, and the clarity and strength of her voice gives these stories a lingering power.” ―Publishers Weekly