Born in 1968 on the far away island of Salamasond. Grew up a feminist with a liberal minded mother and sensible older sisters. Always loved science. Converted to religion and devout follower until it dawned on me that it didn’t agree with scientific facts that had been verified by multiple professionals so now I follow the facts as they are discovered. Lost my teenage son in a risk-taking accident with a train so now live between parallel universes – the regular one and the one where grief has to be sidestepped at every turn. Death and other Taxes is an allegory about letting go of the compulsion to want to see our lost loved ones again. It is an answer to everyone who tried but failed to comfort me by saying he was still there somewhere. It is also an example of how to manage our unintelligible grief using the psychological trick of rewriting it into a work of pure imagination. There is nothing more rewarding than raising kids – it’s what we’re made for. The pain we feel when a child dies is life-long and there is no panacea except the stories we tell ourselves. We are all story-tellers; novelists and religious writers alike are just professional day-dreamers. However, the key to coping with crisis is remembering what’s fact and what’s fiction.
The wildly fantastical imagery of the ‘after-life’ in this story is whimsical but very down to earth. The author’s wit and imagination flourishes to life, in deliberate counter-balance to the void that otherwise death – especially an ‘untimely’ one – leaves behind. In this sense it reminds me a little of the spirit of Dylan Thomas’ words: ‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light’. At times confusing and difficult to follow, the story is no less appreciable for that reason. That aspect simply reflects the reality of the situation: loss can be mercilessly difficult to accept and reconcile. It is the continuity of life and the contribution we make to it, that ultimately provides the humanely redeeming sanity of ‘closure’ for this story.
“A bizarre fantasy that tries to piece together what happens to a young man after his untimely death places him in dark exile.
When you die before you’re supposed to, sometimes you end up in a strange, in-between place. At least that’s where the unnamed narrator finds himself after a mysterious accident places him in the pathway of a pooch named Parley. Turns out, the Grim Reaper only uses his black cape as a ruse; Parley is actually his true form. And with that knowledge, readers are quickly catapulted into the outlandish, slightly off-kilter explanation of what happens to people in this version of purgatory. They’re not meant to be there, so they’ve got to find a way to pass the time. The book’s main character—though he’s never truly named, he earns the nickname Wit because of his sense of humor—is understandably puzzled by his predicament and filled with a strong desire to go home. In his often disturbing yet oddly endearing first novel, Miller creates a kind of “Jabberwocky”-style story in which fans of strange, Seuss-ian characters—“Pillow is the goddess of Lost Sleep. Don’t let her yawn on you or you’ll be snoring for a hundred years; or until a passing virgin kisses you”—will feel right at home. Readers never get terribly comfortable with the characters Wit meets, and they’re probably not supposed to; this is the afterlife, after all. Yet the story is so whimsically told that the Through the Looking Glass frivolity starts to make a strange sort of sense. Miller’s work here might be inspired by his own son’s untimely death, and his grief is palpable. In the author’s estimation, young men, especially those in their teens, should not die; their move into maturity is reflected in Wit’s slow understanding of the alternate world he now lives in and how he copes with the oddness of everything around him. Take this small exchange: “The whale started again, ‘I came here when I was a boy, like you, but already as big as a bus. Who wants to swim in skim milk?! So the first thing I did was to try to get back by beaching myself. I didn’t even realize you can’t die here.’ ” At times, dialogue can be excessive… but for the right adventurous reader, this trek off the beaten path will yield wonderful results.
An odd, imaginative story filled with sweet sadness, glowing with… vivid appeal.”
Ref. Kirkus Reviews
“Nobody loves ghosts do they?”
“Yet they are all haunted by memories of loved ones.”
“Even so,” mused Wit, “I think they are better off if I leave them in peace.”
“Quite. Do you know why dogs howl at ghosts?”
“No? I thought that was just a myth.”
“Maybe it is but we bite them just in case; it helps get the message across to the ghosts that they are not helping.”
“Do they care?” asked Wit, curious to know if the bullies and tyrants also got a chance to get back.
“Yes of course the dogs care about being bitten. Blessed are those who are flea bathed regularly; so the Bubble says,” said the flea with a twinkle in its invisibly small eye.
“Do the ghosts care?”
“I don’t know; they’re a myth aren’t they?”
“Are they?” Wit asked.
“Catch 42: If they can walk through walls, then they can go anywhere. If they can live forever, they can go anywhen since even Our history repeats itself. Free in time and space, there would be no ghosts because they would warn themselves not to die. But if they did warn themselves, they would scare themselves to death. A Catch 22 is a vicious circle; a Catch 42 is a short circuit.”
“Oh? But I got back to earth so what was I while I was there?”
“You were a bright spark, well grounded; a filament of your own imagination. Maybe you’re a figment dreaming you’re a man? The endless possibilities give us butterflies. It’s more important to ask yourself, ‘What will I be now, if not chaos?’
“OK. Then what will I be?”
“There are only two things that are certain,” said the flea scratching absent mindedly at the mites on its back. “And you have already achieved one of them so you’ve passed – so to speak.”
“…No, there’s no such thing as famine; only fair minds out of balance: the whale on one side making shrimps of everyone else. Look at all the food around Way-Lean: one man’s food is another man’s famine if he doesn’t think about sharing. “But you’re in a fae-mind, a dream you made in your blood by craving something. This one came from longing too hard to get home. It’s like mercury in your veins; it’s made you mad…”
“…There is no such thing as raw war,” said Thera. “Wars are lost there and turn up here in Piece. Everyone wants a piece of the spoils so it’s really just raw greed and greed is really just so others will envy you. ‘Why?’ I’m glad you asked: If others are looking at you, then you’re the centre of the universe. But it always leads to madness in the end…”