Louisiana, 2042. Spurred by the effects of climate change, states have closed graveyards and banned burials, making cremation mandatory and the ashes of loved ones state-owned unless otherwise claimed. Alma lives alone and struggles to grieve in the wake of her young mother Naomi's death, during which Alma failed to honor Naomi's final wishes. Now, Alma decides to fight to reclaim Naomi's ashes, a journey of unburial that will bring into her life a mysterious and fiercely loyal stranger, Bordelon, who appears in St. Genevieve after a storm, as well as a group of strong, rebellious local women.
[A] poetic novel ... The most intriguing character in this novel is Mother Nature herself, an earth that has turned against its inhabitants. Alma’s intrinsic connection to the land only intensifies as she endeavors to lay her mother’s ashes to rest in the soil ... Friedman’s language is visceral, scrubbing away at dull details until they shine ... the reader too becomes immersed in Friedman’s layered and luscious prose, the vibrant colors of Alma’s world ... Most captivating, though, is the stillness and quiet — lines that end abruptly and the images that conjure a deafening silence — representations of the graveyards that no longer exist, but whose absence is haunting.
This set-up allows Friedman — a poet and short story writer known for exploring moments of vulnerability — the opportunity to elegantly drive home the importance of rituals for 'loving the dead with the diamond of the living.' But it's a shaky premise. While Americans now largely treat death and mourning as topics to be acknowledged only through glancing euphemisms, the idea that the first step that a future U.S. government would take to combat climate change would be banning burials seems incongruous with human history...I kept waiting for further world-building to anchor Friedman's premise, to explain why a culture would become so hostile to mourning rituals, to make the climate change logic of closing graveyards make sense. But aside from more extreme weather and barer store shelves, the U.S. of 2042 is essentially the same as the U.S. of 2022, down to laws that ban abortions after six weeks of pregnancy — in Alma's mind, both these laws and those banning burial are simply about taking away people's choices ... Its flawed foundation notwithstanding, Here Lies provides a poignant portrait of the way grief can bring people together, uniting even strangers through a common pain and commitment to keep their loved ones alive in memory.
Friedman steers clear of identifying her characters’ races and issues of class are glossed over, which at times, make their backstories feel a bit sanitized and contrived ... Even so, the novel does have many moments of electric energy ... There is a protective quality to nature throughout the book, and this quality deepens the reader’s grief over its transience. One gets the sense that the natural world is also a member of Alma’s found family, a character she gets to know over the course of the novel. It’s no surprise that Friedman wrote poetry before she began writing fiction—her prose has a lyrical quality ... There are no simple answers and, though Here Lies posits a few, it’s somehow more satisfying that we don’t come out of the book squarely in any camp.