10 June 2015

Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff

I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seems like this year has been full of books dealing with suicide. I’m glad that suicide is getting attention, and glad to see books that handle the subject with sensitivity.

Books about suicide have fallen into two basic categories for me: books where the narrator is contemplating it, or books where the narrator has been affected by it.

PLAYLIST FOR THE DEAD is the latter: Sam, the main character, discovers his best friend Hayden dead of an intentional overdose in the opening pages. In the aftermath, Sam finds a playlist that Hayden left for him, with a note that tells him he’ll understand if he listens. Hayden had no existing mental illness that anyone knew of, and mental illness didn’t play a role in the novel at all.

I felt right at home inside Sam’s head, and in the first few chapters he described, with heartbreaking honesty, how it feels to be a survivor of suicide: the continual swirl of anger and guilt and love and hate that becomes all-consuming.

I loved Sam’s voice, but in the end, the plot left me feeling underwhelmed.

After Hayden’s suicide, the “bully trifecta”—Hayden’s brother and his two friends—become targets of violence. One by one, someone is attacking and humiliating them. And that element of mystery and danger adds a lot of excitement to PLAYLIST FOR THE DEAD. The mystery left me guessing up until the very end.

So why did I feel underwhelmed? I’m not sure, exactly. It felt like the narrative pulled its punches. The choices made—both by the characters and by the author—felt weak to me.

I get there are no easy answers with suicide, and I get that no one ever really gets closure from it. But that said, there comes a point when things do turn a corner. It felt like rather than ever turning a corner and giving me some kind of emotional payoff, the book took everything at a gentle curve instead. All the characters spent the book feeling guilty and hiding their own roles in Hayden’s suicide—and yet, when their reasons were revealed, with two exceptions, the reasons were kind of…well…paltry.

It left me thinking: Really? That’s all? And the big bad, when he finally was forced to confront what he did, left me feeling empty. I didn’t get the emotional release I wanted. Needed.

I didn’t dislike PLAYLIST FOR THE DEAD. Far from it. But I didn’t like it the way I thought I was going to. That’s okay, though. I still think it will help a lot of people. In the end, it just wasn’t for me.