Dara Horn’s novel Eternal Life traces the aftermath of a supernatural deal between two 1st-century lovers—Rachel and Elazar—who, to save the life of their ailing child, strike an agreement that requires them to live forever. By the 21st century, the two have married others, had innumerable children, and watched spouses and offspring die countless times. Reviewing the book, B.D. McClay writes about the tension that informs the narrative:
Hannah, Rachel’s granddaughter by her most recent marriage, announces that she’s on a team of scientists trying to figure out how to help people live forever, a project that fills Rachel, initially, with horror. But if Hannah can isolate the causes of aging and death, Rachel reasons, can’t she also help people to die? And if Rachel can safely let Hannah in on her secret, might she be able to explain why it’s good that people die?
This is a little too much for a fairly slender novel to juggle, and Eternal Life doesn’t quite have the magic of Dara Horn’s previous books. . . . Despite its flaws, [however,] Eternal Life is frequently moving, especially in its early chapters as Rachel remembers her long life, the sorrows that cut deeply even after centuries. “What reasons,” she wonders, “are there for being alive?”
It’s not an easy question to answer. . . . In a sense, Dara Horn’s other novels [like The World to Come and A Guide for the Perplexed] do a better job of answering [it]. Perhaps death isn’t real, and neither is life as we know it; perhaps we are surrounded and sustained by eternity, and by love, and incorporated into a complex and beautiful story that we could never ourselves anticipate, playing roles we’ll never really understand. Perhaps we can only feel that eternity when we know we’ll have to leave the stage. But we don’t, at least in Horn’s books, leave the stage for nothing. We leave it for reality, for more life. At the risk of sounding circular, the meaning of life isn’t, indeed can’t be, death; it’s life.
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