The Despair has plagued the earth for five years. Most of the world's population has inexplicably died by its own hand, and the few survivors struggle to remain alive. A mysterious, shadowy group called the Collectors has emerged, inevitably appearing to remove the bodies of the dead. But in the crumbling state of Florida, a man named Norman takes an unprecedented stand against the Collectors, propelling him on a journey across North America. It's rumored a scientist in Seattle is working on a cure for the Despair, but in a world ruled by death, it won't be easy to get there.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||4.90(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
David Oppegaard was born in St. Paul, Minnesota. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from St. Olaf College and an M.F.A. in Writing from Hamline University. The Suicide Collectors is his first novel.
Read an Excerpt
The Suicide Collectors
By David Oppegaard
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2008 David Oppegaard
All rights reserved.
The path home was overrun with weeds and hanging vines. Norman hiked through the mess as best he could, slapping the mosquitoes against his neck as he tried to keep his fishing pole from tangling in the park's tall grass. He kept his shoulders hunched, ducking the low branches, until he'd plowed his way through the dense overgrowth and back onto a paved street.
Though the sun was out now, it had rained for days and the entire town was covered in a furry coat of moss. Green thrived on tree trunks, sidewalks, street signs, rocks, automobiles, flagpoles. Even the abandoned houses around Norman had taken on a greenish hue, their wooden walls decaying like the skin of a gangrenous sailor. A pale green lizard slid out from beneath a sunken car, shook its head, and looked up at Norman. It stuck its forked tongue into the air, as if trying to taste human on the wind. Norman considered catching the lizard, maybe frying it with bananas and salt, but decided against it. He was already late for lunch. Jordan, his wife, liked to eat at exact, predetermined times. She claimed the routine gave her a better sense of day and night, of the weeks and months passing.
Norman waved his fishing pole at the lizard and continued walking. Just under six feet tall, Norman had an average build, a Floridian's brown tan, and hair so dark it was almost black. He didn't examine the rows of empty, sagging homes around him, preferring to keep his eyes fixed on the cracked street. After five years Norman was tired of tracking the town's slow crumble, of noting which roof had collapsed, what fence had fallen over, whose rusted swing set had fallen apart. If people wanted to leave their lives behind, that was their business, not his. He was still only thirty-four. He had his own life to attend to, his own house to guard.
Norman turned down another quiet street, weaving around the occasional rusting car. His house was up ahead. Pops, their sole remaining neighbor in a town that had once had a population of over four thousand, sat on his front porch, muttering as he tinkered with a corroded electric generator. A bald, strong old man with grease-stained fingernails, Pops wore dark sunglasses and the faded denim overalls of an auto mechanic. He glanced up as Norman's shadow fell across his porch and sat back from the generator. He wiped sweat off his forehead with the back of one large hand and nodded.
"Afternoon, Pops. Fix anything today?"
Pops pushed his wraparound sunglasses up his nose and smacked his thick lips. "If I can get it running again, this old generator might be useful. We could always use a few more around here."
"No kidding. Well, good luck."
Long, wet grass squelched beneath Norman as he walked across his lawn. He took off his muddy boots, set his fishing pole down on the porch, and went inside. The living room was dim, its curtains drawn. This was unusual. Jordan loved a bright house and always woke a little after dawn. The curtains should have been open for hours already, allowing sunlight to pour into their living room and feed his wife's thriving collection of potted plants.
Norman slid across the hardwood floor in his socks. He sniffed the air for a scent of lunch but caught nothing. The kitchen was dark. Norman opened the back door and peeked into the yard, scanning their vegetable garden for his wife. Not there, either. He headed upstairs. The stairway, hallway, and bathroom were all dark. He turned the knob of their bedroom door and entered the perfumed silence of their room. Here darkness had settled over everything like dust, piling up on their dressers, their nightstands, in each corner of the room. Norman drew open the curtains to let the sunlight in. A lumpy shape lay in the center of their queen bed, hidden by a white comforter.
"Morning, hon," Norman said. "It's a beautiful day out there. Blue skies, but not too hot yet. We should tackle the garden."
Sunlight revealed only the top of his wife's head, a tangled mass of blond hair peeking out from under a blanket. The bed creaked under Norman's weight as he pounced. "Time to get up, sleepy." Norman felt through the blanket, found a shoulder, and gave it a shake. His wife didn't move at the encouragement.
"Come on, sweetheart. We'll make some lunch."
Jordan failed to respond to more shaking so Norman pulled the blanket back. Her body was curved inward in the fetal position. Her pajama tank top was bunched between her breasts, and as Norman watched her chest, he felt a chill spread through him.
She wasn't breathing.
Norman put two fingers to her throat. No pulse, and her skin was clammy. On their nightstand an empty bottle of sleeping pills was tipped over on its side.
A moan slid out from the back of Norman's throat. He took off all his clothes. He climbed back into the bed and wrapped himself around his wife's body. He made sure the blankets covered her feet, which were always cold, and nuzzled the back of her neck with his nose. He exhaled batches of hot air, filling the room with as much warmth as he could.
An hour later Norman made noise in his garage, knocking over coffee cans and sweeping aside tools. He opened drawers and cabinets. He riffled through bins, trunks, buckets, and cardboard boxes. Amazing how much junk he had accumulated over the years, like an overzealous squirrel storing up more acorns than it could ever possibly eat. Had he really thought all this crap could prevent anything? What good were electrical tape, handsaws, road flares, and industrial-size space heaters versus an empty phonebook?
Norman kicked a cinder block and winced as it toppled over. He cursed and returned to his search. The Collectors would soon be here. They'd come in numbers, silent and dark-robed, and glide up his front-porch steps like ghosts. They would open his door without knocking. They would fan out, find what they wanted, and take it without a word.
He found his shotgun in a bottom drawer in the dimmest corner of the garage. It smelled like oil and sulfur, but he liked its weight in his hands. A box of unused shells sat in the drawer, behind a stack of old magazines. Their neon-red casings glowed despite the dim light. Norman slowly pushed five shells into the shotgun, as if feeding it large medicinal pills, and racked the first shell into the shotgun's chamber. Was that creaking coming from the house?
Norman disengaged the shotgun's safety as he walked back inside. He flipped on every light in every room but left the curtains drawn. He went upstairs, flipping on more lights, and checked on his wife. She was still lying on her side, covered by the white comforter. Below their bedroom window, in the backyard, a rabbit nibbled on rhubarb leaves in the garden. No signs of intruders, no Collectors wading through the swamp that edged their yard. Norman closed the curtains and made sure the windows were locked. He went back downstairs. He poured himself a glass of whiskey and went out to the front porch. He sat down in his favorite rocking chair, set the shotgun across his lap, and started to drink.
Pops was no longer out working on his own front porch. The old man was probably inside, avoiding the worst of the day's heat. Mosquitoes swarmed Norman's face as they searched for a vulnerable place to land. He swatted them away and peered down both ends of the street. Which way would the Collectors come from? The surrounding streets and highways were pretty much underwater, bogged out by swamps reclaiming their turf. It would be difficult to drive any sort of vehicle through —
What was that noise?
Norman cocked his head. Where had he heard that sound before? As if someone were beating the sky with a paddle, the way you aired out large, dusty rugs. The noise was above town now!! — whump whump whump — and its fierce mechanical sound caused Norman to down the rest of his whiskey in one gulp.
Pops had come back out. "I know that sound," the old man shouted from his porch. "What's happened, Norman? Where's your wife?" Pops' eyes fell on the shotgun in Norman's hands. He ran a hand over his bald head and cleared his throat.
"Don't, son. I know she meant the world to you, but don't do it."
Norman checked to make certain the shotgun's safety was still off.
Norman ran inside his house. The mechanical roar was now directly overhead, as if an enraged dragon had perched on their roof. Norman sprinted to the second floor. He kicked open the bedroom door, the shotgun's stock pressed tight against the crook of his shoulder. Three Collectors were already bent over his wife's bed, their dark robes flapping as a gale poured in through the room's broken window. The word helicopter finally came to Norman. He fired into the ceiling, scattering plaster everywhere.
The figures turned toward him. Their faces were pale and smooth, like polished skulls. Hardly human at all. Norman racked another shell into the shotgun's chamber, but he kept the gun pointed at the ceiling.
"Don't touch her, goddamn it."
The largest of the Collectors, a big man with broad shoulders and a square face, turned his back to Norman and lifted Jordan into his arms. The other two Collectors, a slender man and a woman with gray eyes, parted as the big man walked toward the window and the waiting helicopter outside. Norman lowered the shotgun's barrel and drew a bead on the big man's back. The Collector continued to the window, carrying Jordan's limp body easily, as if death had already hollowed her out. Norman clenched his teeth and squeezed the shotgun's trigger.
A deafening roar and the big man's head disappeared. The Collector's body took one more quivering step, paused, and slumped forward onto the floor, dropping its burden. Jordan's body rolled over, onto its back. The other Collectors looked from their headless colleague to Norman. Blood and pulped flesh had splattered onto their faces, flecks of white bone stood out against the dark cloth of their robes. Norman nodded toward the headless body.
"Take him instead."
The Collectors converged on the fresh corpse. One grabbed it by the hands and another grabbed it by the feet. They took it to the window, secured it in a sling made out of nylon webbing, and pushed the corpse outside with the ease of long practice. Attached to the helicopter by a thick winch cable, the harnessed body hung swinging in mid-air, like a pendulum, and first one and then the other Collector leaped out the window after it, clinging to its bulk as it lifted higher into the air.
Norman sank to his knees. He set the shotgun on the floor and bowed his head. He waited for a spray of bullets, for machine-gun retribution, but the helicopter simply rose above the house and flew away. The bedroom returned to its former quiet. Norman saw that his wife's eyes were open and staring through him. He rolled them shut. A low, steady hum filled his mind, like a summons to something still far off, and when Norman covered his ears, the sound just grew louder.CHAPTER 2
Norman and Pops buried Jordan in the dark. They worked rapidly by the light of a golf cart's halogen headlights, shoveling wet clumps of dirt with as little wasted movement as possible, their breathing regular and loud. The day's heat lingered and it was still too warm for work like this, but Norman didn't want his wife's corpse exposed to further trouble. The Collectors had left, dragging one of their dead with them, but that didn't mean the spooky bastards wouldn't come back and try again. For nearly five years Norman and Pops had peacefully opposed the Collectors from their small Florida town, burying suicides before the Collectors could arrive on-site. They hadn't saved every corpse from being dragged away (so many of the suicides went in the middle of the night, with sleeping pills or some other poison), but they had saved enough to realize the Collectors wouldn't give up until the body was buried six feet deep.
When the hole was deep enough, they lowered Jordan's body into it. She was wrapped in a white cotton bedsheet, the nicest one Norman could find in their linen closet. They shoveled dirt into the hole without pause until the grave was filled. Norman stepped back and rested his chin on the handle of his shovel. The night air smelled like acrid swamp gas and blooming orchids. Pops shoveled more dirt until a mound rose above the grave. Norman considered saying a poem, something eulogy-like, but couldn't think of anything. The night-shift mosquitoes had found him. They crawled over his forearms, neck, and face, prodding his skin for blood.
Pops took their shovels and tossed them into the back of the golf cart. The cart had been modified over the years as Pops, a natural mechanic, tinkered with it almost daily. The cart now had oversize wheels, roll bars, seat belts, and an engine twice as powerful as the factory original (the cart could break fifty on a flat stretch of road). Pops sat down in the driver's seat and rubbed his hands together. "Well," he said, "let's go get drunk."
Norman got into the cart and buckled his seat belt. Pops drove fast through the deserted streets, weaving between the stalled vehicles, cars and trucks whose locations he had memorized long ago and regarded with as much interest as the passing palm trees. Bugs smashed against the cart's grill as they rounded a sharp turn. A large chunk of darkness appeared ahead, squatting in the middle of the road. Pops gunned the golf cart's engine and headed straight for it. Norman pushed his foot to the passenger-side floor, searching for a brake pedal that wasn't there.
"It's too big, Pops. You'll flip us."
"Hmmm. Well, we better find out for sure."
Norman swore as the cart slammed into the chunk of darkness. Its front end bucked upward as its wheels rose from the earth. Stars blurred into view. A bug flew into Norman's open mouth and stuck against the back of his throat. They hung in the sky for what seemed like a long time, weightless except for a slight downward tug, then the cart crashed back onto the road. The hard landing caused Norman's body to pitch forward against his seat belt, and he swallowed the bug.
Pops fought the steering wheel for control of the cart. They skidded off the road, up a curb, and back into the street. Pops pounded Norman on the back as he tried to cough up the bug. "She can really fly, can't she? One fallen branch, and we're off like the Wright brothers."
They passed more dead vehicles and thriving palm trees in the warm darkness. Norman sat back, enjoying the fragrant breeze that blew across his face. Pops pulled into the parking lot of an old strip mall and stopped in front of a faded awning that read LIQUOR IS QUICKER. The cart's headlights illuminated the front end of the store's interior, revealing several dazzling patches of broken glass. Pops elbowed Norman in the ribs.
"What should we get tonight, son? I feel like a little Jack Daniel's myself. Actually, I feel like a lot of it."
Norman unbuckled his seat belt. "Hell. I'll drink lighter fluid, for all I care."
Norman and Pops headed for the hard liquor, kicking away the empty cardboard boxes that littered the store's linoleum floor. Most of the stock had gone bad years ago, and the store smelled like old hops and vinegar. "Ah, my good friend," Pops said, picking up a bottle of whiskey and examining its label. Norman grabbed a bottle of clear and a bottle of golden for himself, not bothering to read their labels. He turned to leave, but something in the aisle was crawling toward them.
"Pops," Norman whispered. The crawling thing was log-shaped. Big.
The old man turned and whistled. "Well, I'll be damned. Alligator."
Norman and Pops stepped backward. The alligator slid forward and cracked its mouth open, revealing an extensive, shadowy nest of teeth.
And what was that smell?
"This is how folks lose legs," Pops whispered. "You know that? This is how people lose legs."
"Yes. I know that."
"We should run."
Norman glanced back at the door without actually turning his head. The front door appeared very far away at the moment.
"Okay. You first."
"You're old and you're slow. You need the head start worse. You run, and I'll chuck this bottle at him."
"But that's the last tequila in town."
"Run, you lush."
Excerpted from The Suicide Collectors by David Oppegaard. Copyright © 2008 David Oppegaard. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was another book read for genre-expanding.The basics of the plot: There's this great sadness, almost like a disease, spreading over the world and causing people to commit suicide. A lot of people. Like 90% of the world. Of course, there are some survivors, and they make a pilgrimage of sorts.The story clips along, and it's like reading a good zombie book or post-apocalypse story. What's nice and different is that the author doesn't make every person into a complete asshole, which is unusual for the genre. It's more realistic in that sense. It kind of sucks that one of the best books of all time, the Road, fits into this genre and all others will be compared to it. Because let's face it, that book is fantastic and pretty tough to match up with.There were three essential things about the Suicide Collectors that bothered me:1. There's a female character who is 11, but she seems awfully mature for 11. I guess that might happen if you saw people killing themselves all damn day, but why not just make her 14?2. The ending is a little unsatisfying. However, there is an ending, so props for that.3. This is kind of a personal pet peeve, but there are two fairly long dream sequences, or what you might call dream sequences. I just have no patience for that in fiction. It's a made up story, so what is the point of a mde-up story inside of a made-up story? Also, in literature, dreams almost always have some deeper significance, but it's sort of a cheat because that significance should come in the story, not within a dream within the story. It feels like taking a shortcut that I can't really abide by. Again, personal pet peeve, so if that stuff doesn't bother you, you'll be fine.
Good book. A post-apocalyptic story with an interesting twist. Worth reading.
The story starts five years into the mysterious Despair and 90% of the world's population has committed suicide. Norman takes a stand against the enigmatic Collectors who are the undertakers in this brave new world. They appear and collect the bodies in helicopters and carry them away. After his defiance Norman decides to leave his small town in Florida and travel to Seattle where it is rumored that a cure for the Despair is being worked on. He convinces his friend and neighbor Pops to go with him and pick up a stray young girl named Zero along the way. Things build to a fairly unpredictable if slightly disappointing confrontation with the power that controls the Collectors called the Source. I really wanted to like this book and I did enjoy reading it. I loved the name of Zero for a character and the reason behind it resonated with me. There were several clever items in the book that I wondered (hoped) were on purpose. The location of Seattle for the place of the cure was pretty inspired. The author even made a veiled reference to coming to see the wizard. All they had to do was follow the Duracrete road. Also having Seattle be the place where people have avoided suicide is sort of ironic given the urban myth surrounding suicide rates in a city where it is perpetually raining. The snippets of the country that Norman encounters were well formed and I would have loved to see the journey take longer. In general I wanted more from the book. (I read a lot of verbose authors and it took me a while to get used to Oppegarad's brisk style. The style reminded me a little bit of Johnathan Lethem's shorter works.) From the very beginning I wanted to know more about Norman and what his life was like before the Despair. I found it a little hard to relate to him and while I enjoyed the construct of all the characters I didn't really care about any of them. Definitely worth reading and I will pick up the next book by Oppegaard when it comes out.
An interesting and, occasionally, fascinating storyline, too often bogged down by mediocre writing and a very unsatisfactory ending. This book is worth reading if the premise of mass suicide, collectors of suicide victims (in the literal sense), and the survivors (aka as movers), interest you. It did me, and, while I don't regret reading his book, it could been a much better one had the author (1st published book) been more careful with his writing and put more thought into the book's ending. By the way, in my reviews I will not be spending most of my time explaining the plot. You can read the book for that.
This book reads like a really bad 'B' movie, I'm thinking Soylent Green or Omega Man. I don't know who is more responsible, the author for providing a deeply unsatisfying story, or the publisher for unnecessarily giving hope to an author who appears to be fairly untalented.
While overall I think this book was okay. I found that the dialog was at most awkward at times. Some of the characters were not at all believable, and the ending fell flat. This is not a book that I would read again, and not sure if I would pick up something else from this author, unless is was free. Most books I can sit and read in one sitting, yet this I found difficult to get through and it was only 200 some pages. I understand this is fiction but it was so far fetched at times I just could not follow the plot, especially near the ending.
"Interesting characters that you care about, out of the ordinary story. Quick read, had trouble breaking away and doing other things. Highly recommend."
This is afine read with the suspense of a mysterious suicide plague and the few strong survivors who fight instead of giving in to the pull of the strange despondency. A lone survivor with a feisty little girl travel cross county to solve the plague. Very enjoyable characters and a good read
This book takes the premise that millions of people will get a unheard of disease and kill themselves. Sounds far fetched, doesn't it? Boy is it ever and what's more this author delievers one of the best stories of the year. When his wife finally kills herself the protagonist takes off on a cross country trip with the other surviving member of their town. This is a tale of self discovery with many quirky characters along the way. I strongly suggest this book to anyone who wants to read a book the likes of which they have never read before.
Norman lives in Florida. He has only one neighbor left. The Despair has almost wiped out humanity. Rational people, happy people, commit suicide. Not necessarily in a flashy "Goodbye cruel world" fashion, but it happens just the same. Once a person has died, the Collectors remove the body. No one knows why or where. Norman is the first and only man to defy the Collectors when they come for his wife. This begins his long journey with Pops, the neighbor, toward Seattle where, rumor has it, a doctor is working on a cure for the Despair. A fabulous first novel with its only downfall being a lack of explanation at the end.
No one surviving understands much about the Despair plague, but in the five years since it first surfaced or at least was identified the pandemic destruction of the globe has left fewer than 10% of the population alive. Incredibly, in this relatively short time so many have committed suicide. Those left behind struggles with grief, survival guilt and despair over the future.
In Florida, Norman comes home to find his beloved wife dead, a victim of an overdose. When three Collectors arrive to take away the corpse, Norman refuses their entry. Instead he and his neighbor Pops fire at them; blowing away one of them. The remaining two leave with the corpse of their comrade while Norman and Pop discuss how the Collectors know when to come for a dead person like they did within a few hours for Norman¿s wife. They also realize they cannot remain here as more Collectors will come so they discuss where to go before these ghoulish scavengers come back for them. They decide to cross the country to Seattle where rumors that a research scientist has found a cure to Despair. In Kansas, courageous but frightened eleven year old Zero joins the traveling Floridians, who have met death everywhere on their trek.
This well written haunting science fiction tale will grip the audience from the onset when Norman finds his wife dead in their bed and never slows down as he and Pops travel as bleak a landscape in recent memory. The story line is fast-paced but gloomy as Despair is the shroud that hovers across America. As in the Zager and Evans 1969 song In The Year 2525 states: ¿¿ For what he never knew now man's reign is through; but through the eternal night the twinkling of starlight¿, a dash of hope mostly through the intrepid Zero who brings a reason to live to the adult Floridians.