Under Review

Under Review: Against Death – 35 Essays on Living

Shayna Bursey

Hearing the stories of near death experiences often paint visions of the “bright white light” and all the memories you’ve acquired flashing before you. It evokes thoughts of someone’s long journey to arrive at death, or perhaps their fast approach. Against Death is a collection of the different ways we interpret, experience, and brush shoulders with almost dying. While some of the stories are very matter-of-fact depictions of near death, others carry a more convoluted notion of the idea. Since this is an anthology, this juxtaposition feels necessary for a topic that typically insights so much fear, sadness and dread in people. While death is something we probably don’t invite into our lives as a wanted guest, somehow there is still a lot of light in this book. 

Perhaps my draw to this anthology comes from my own personal fear of death, and my attempts to reason and bargain with it lately. While I don’t have to urgently come to terms with my mortality, I feel like a lot of people around me have had to and it’s heavy. It brings up unpleasant feelings that aren’t quite identifiable in nature and drives home just how uncomfortable and unaccepting I am of death. 

Even though there was discomfort, I did love how this collection takes on a different shape for different readers. Because of my own experiences, there were a few stories I had to stop reading; some I didn’t even return to. Not because they were poorly written or I didn’t care for the topic. It’s because some of the stories just hit too close to home and, emotionally, I felt myself recoil. I think there were some things in this book I wasn’t ready to read or mentally grapple with. On the other hand, there were a few stories I contemplated for days; certain remarks and sentences that I will probably carry with me forever. Identifying with the author is always the easy way to buy into a piece of art. At the end of the day, it’s human nature and quite frankly, cathartic, to know that we’re not completely alone in our own lived experience. Especially if that experience isn’t necessarily the most positive one. 

Overall, if you like an array of viewpoints, digestible story lengths, and in some morbid way, want to feel closer to death so there can be closure or understanding, Against Death is worth a read. It’s perfect reading as we head into summer and you need something that is easy to pick up, put down for an extended period of time, and pick back up again. I’m not sure if I achieved my goal to feel a little less scared of the great unknown that comes after life, but I think hearing about how so many others have dealt with their own circumstance has brought me one step closer.