Death isn’t easy to talk about. For many, it’s that scary and mysterious inevitable event that’s waiting at the end of life, and it’s something that most of us try to avoid thinking about as much as possible. So, one might expect that reading about death could be nothing but depressing. In his 2017 novel Reincarnation Blues, however, Michael Poore proves that that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.
The novel follows Milo, a soul who is reincarnated over and over again in what a Hindu might call “samsara,” or the cycle of death and rebirth. But, rather than this cycle being infinite, Milo is given only 10,000 chances to reach Perfection or else his soul will dissolve into Nothingness. As the story progresses, Milo moves closer and closer to that 10,000th-life deadline, trying desperately to understand what reaching Perfection means.
What makes this novel so fascinating is the way that Michael Poore is able to deal with the subject of death in such a casual and often lighthearted way. Readers develop a deep emotional connection with Milo as a character and then can’t help but laugh when he gets devoured by a shark or burnt up in the sun’s inferno, knowing that he’ll reappear in the afterlife pissed off at himself because he failed to achieve Perfection once again. Reincarnation Blues is a book that will have you laughing hysterically on one page and then sobbing your eyes out on the next. Somehow, Michael Poore has managed to take perhaps the gravest subject matter of them all, death, and write an endearing and profound page-turner that’s packed to the gills with humor and wit.
Milo and His Many Lives
One of the most lovable aspects of Reincarnation Blues is the way that Poore portrays the character Milo throughout his many lives. Nearly every other chapter describes Milo in one of his 10,000 lives, and some of the chapters briefly touched several of his lives, when he would be a dog or a gay man living in Houston or something. Yet, throughout the entirety of the novel, Milo retains his unique brand of wisdom and kindheartedness, regardless of whether he’s a washed-up alcoholic in the Florida Keys, a pet cricket, or a young boy living in India.
Through the character of Milo, Poore shows us that people are people regardless of temporal or geographic differences and that any soul is capable of Perfection regardless of the circumstances it exists in. Throughout the novel, Poore purposely contrasts different modes of life, sending Milo from one end of the universe to another, pointing out the similarities and interconnectedness among all living things.
Despite being the oldest and wisest soul in the universe, however, Milo’s character is far from perfect. He gets frustrated and spiteful. He gets angry. He throws away entire lives in pursuit of vanity and sex. He has a penchant for cheap beer. Yet throughout most of his lives, Milo’s wisdom and goodness cut through these cosmetic flaws. In this way, Reincarnation Blues makes the statement that our flaws do not define us, but rather the acts of selflessness and goodwill that we are capable of.
Death as a Beautiful Woman
Another interesting aspect of the novel is that Milo falls in love with the embodiment of Death, who prefers to go by the name Suzie. Each time one of Milo’s earthly lives ends, he is reconnected with Suzie in the afterlife, and the two of them romp around like horny high school kids, sneaking off to dirty mattresses and getting frisky after eating a burrito or two. Milo’s relationship with Suzie is thrilling and ironic, and this saga of forbidden love drives many of Milo’s actions throughout the story.
The problem is that if Milo is able to reach Perfection, he will become part of the greater Oversoul and will no longer get to spend time with his lover. This creates conflict within Milo as to whether he should even pursue Perfection if it means losing Suzie, the greatest joy that he has in his 10,000 lifetimes.
In Buddhism, the concept of nirvana (which is very similar to Poore’s concept of Perfection) is said to be the lack of a sense of self, the lack of desire, and the lack of suffering. In a way, it means that you cease to exist in any way, you are simply freed from the cycle of death and rebirth (or samara). And so, the inner conflict of Milo related to his love for Suzie begs a question that I, personally, have struggled with about the Buddhist universal view for some time. Why would you strive for what is essentially the annihilation of yourself? What’s the point of achieving nirvana when you can longer feel the wave of endorphins rush to your head when you’re starving and you take that first bite out of a slice of pizza? When you can no longer feel that giddiness that comes after drinking two or three beers? When you can no longer have sex?
These are the existential questions that Milo wrestles with throughout the story as he approaches the pivotal point in which he will either join the Oversoul or fall off into Nothingness. Ultimately, these questions get answered (though I would have personally preferred them to have been answered more clearly). But in the interest of not spoiling this wonderful novel, I won’t reveal exactly how. Wink.
This Is a Dark, Dark Book
In a similar way to how authors like Tom Robbins or Christopher Moore approach extremely dark subject matters in an absurd and often comedic manner, Michael Poore tackles some very weighty subjects in Reincarnation Blues but somehow keeps the mood light and fun through the novel’s entirety.
In his many lives, Milo becomes a sex slave in an outer space prison, he has to decapitate his own mother with a machete, and he dies in pretty much any way you can imagine. However, in between these horrific episodes, we’re treated to tender moments of young love, simple pleasures like food and wet kisses and sunsets, and some hilariously casual takes on intense situations. Somehow, although Milo is living out some pretty nightmarish scenarios, he’s still able to find comic relief and enjoy the good moments.
Suzie, whose job it is to fly around the universe and sweep living things into death by touching them on the forehead, is also far more compassionate and down-to-earth than you might expect Death to be. She’s also great at growing plants and has dreams of opening a shop where she’ll sell celebrity-themed candles.
All in all, many of the subject matters throughout Reincarnation Blues are terrifying, heavy, and dark; however, the levity with which Michael Poore is able to describe them forces us as readers to take a step back and try to look at our own problems and fears through the lens of the absurd. When you’re able to make light of these weighty subjects, suddenly they become much easier to accept and deal with, and that’s a truly comforting feeling.
More From Michael Poore
Michael Poore lives in Highland, Indiana with his wife Janine Harrison, who is a poet and activist, and their daughter Jianna. You can find him @michaelpoore007 on Twitter or @michael_poore227 on Instagram.
Poore’s first novel Up Jumps the Devil, published in 2012, is just as dark, highly imaginative, and entertaining as Reincarnation Blues and is absolutely worth adding to your reading list. Two Girls, a Clock, and a Crooked House was Poore’s first novel for young readers, which was published in 2019, and it was intended to push the boundaries of what is possible in the minds of young people. Poore has also published a ton of short stories that you can find online.