Parasites Like UsParasites Like Us by Adam Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

wow, i can’t believe i hadn’t read this before, or that none of my friends insisted i read it–it is so perfectly up my alley, and so well-done.

why does it inhabit the alley? because there’s a lot to be learned in this book, in this case about how people who dig up other people for a living view the world. our hero, Hank Hannah, anthropologist, is sliding rather too rapidly into the academic dustbin (but he has tenure!). his love life is nonexistent. his family is shattered; he has only one friend. he has two oddball students who revere him for his past work, but he hasn’t had an original thought in years.

so, at this low point, our story opens, and it’s about to get a lot lower, because Hank’s about to unleash one of the horsemen of the apocalypse on humankind.

none of the above is spoiler turf–it’s all pretty much on the back cover of the book. but you have to be somewhat patient, because the apocalypse isn’t going to come for more than half the book. so if you’re reading for death and destruction only, you’re going to have quite a wait before you get it. death and destruction are not, i think, the point of this book.

the portrait of Hank is a wonder. Johnson is pretty masterful at manipulating the reader’s emotions vis. Mr. Hannah. Hank’s not a hero; he’s not even a perfectly sympathetic character. he has illusions, bad habits, failings, a few neuroses, and cannot even manage to be buff. he gets pushed around, trodden on, his comeuppance comes in buckets. yet he also shows some deep understanding about humans, and a serious passion for his work, and try as you might when he gets weaselly, you just can’t hate the guy.

and because he is an anthropologist/archaeologist, he has the long view. like, the really long view, the millennia-long long view. for him, the end of the world is only the most recent end of the world–for civilizations and countless peoples, the world has ended and ended and ended. Hank’s never blase about it, but he never forgets it, either. this is a great perspective to have, at the end of the world.

plus, it’s funny. painful-funny sometimes, but funny. unless you over-identify with pomeranians, in which case you may find it just painful.