Brief Lives is the 7th volume of Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel series of The Sandman, and while I am obviously already a fan of these books, this installment has struck me as my favorite to date. All the fantastical and bizarrely wonderful things from the previous episodes are strongly present, but there is also something more… something simple, human and remarkable. Here’s the deal:
Have you ever had a song stuck in your head throughout the entirety of reading a book? I have, and it was with this one. Whenever I picked it up and read a page, my brain started blasting, “Red! The color of Desire/ Black! The color of Despair” at me, over and over again. But in all honesty, that wasn’t really a bad thing. It actually makes a lot of sense, as this addition to The Sandman focuses heavily on the family of The Endless, two of which are the twin embodiments of Desire and Despair. (Oh, my dear brain, your mind-palace is far more organized than I ever realized.)
But although Desire and Despair play a part in this tale, the plot itself centers around the youngest of The Endless family, Delirium (formerly Delight), as she manages to convince a heartbroken Dream to go on a hunt for their lost brother, Destruction, who abandoned his realm 300 years earlier. Delirium wants to find Destruction because she misses him. Dream goes on the quest to get his mind off of his broken heart, and also to try and coax his brother back to his realm to once again perform his duties. Along the way, certain changes occur in the siblings, and people are lost on the way to finding Destruction, insinuating that maybe he doesn’t want to be found. Inevitably, in order to once again contact Destruction, Dream is forced to face a past he left behind, thousands of years earlier.
And despite having such a twisting and turning setting and course of action, the story itself can be boiled down to the most humanly relatable things: family, duty, the strength it takes to walk away, loss, regret, forgiveness, and --more than anything-- change. The changes that happen in the world around us that force us to change, or the changes in ourselves that make everything around us appear different.
The beauty of The Sandman is that even though the tales within appear to be bizarre and otherworldly on the surface, Neil Gaiman manages to root them in emotions that every one of us has --or will-- experience. Not only that, but the way in which these ideas are expressed is just beyond creative; Gaiman is in a league of his own. And in my opinion, Brief Lives knocks it out of the park even more so than any of the other installments of the series leading up to this point. Maybe it is the fact that every one of The Endless are featured in it (and let me tell you, they are probably the most interesting fictional family I’ve ever met), or maybe it is the smooth ease with which the story unravels. Either way, I adored this book, and hope to read the remaining 3 volumes of the series soon.
[Be sure to check out the Cannonball Read 5 Group Blog for more reviews]