31 March 2019

Review || Lingering by Melissa Simonson




With Lingering, your departed loved ones are only ever a phone call or text message away.*

Say all those things you should have said. Get their advice, hear their comforting words. Let them celebrate your achievements and soothe your fears like they used to. 

Everyone is welcome, and consultations are always free. 

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That's an interesting prospect, isn't it? To still be able to communicate with those that have died. To see their words, hear their voices? Who would be able to say no to that? You might think that you are that person, but when it comes down to it, would you really be able to walk away?

That's where Ben finds himself when approached by Jess, "Lingering Specialist" as her card says. At first, Ben is angry that someone would approach him at the cemetery of all places, as he is visiting his murdered fiancĂ©e's gravesite and try to capitalize on his grief.  However, he quickly finds himself in the lobby of what appears to be an old, abandoned mill, turning over Carissa's cell phone to Jess in return for getting even a tiny spark of her back. Soon he's getting text messages seemingly from Carissa, and phone calls speaking in her voice. Is it enough to have this small part of her back? Does it assuage his grief, or it is only a crutch? When Jess and her boyfriend Nick, tell Ben that they can build an AI wearing Carissa's face, how far is too far?

AI fiction has taken us many places, with both utopian applications, dreaming of how technology can help us build a better world, as well as dystopian applications, of which there are many. We only need to look at the big screen at popular movies like Terminator, Ex Machina, The Matrix, and Tau — to name a few  to see the many faces of AI. With more and more of our lives spent online creating avatars of ourselves, the technology to "offload" ourselves truly doesn't seem far-fetched. What the reader encounters in Lingering is AI as grief therapy, which is a shockingly novel idea. It's an intriguing idea and one that certainly doesn't seem so improbable.  While the author chooses not to spend a lot of time explaining the AI technology, what she does focus on lends another issue credibility instead.

Lingering gives grief a voice that sometimes whispers softly in the night and at other times, howls like a banshee. From Ben drinking himself into a stupor to the many moments that thoughts of Carissa creep in unwelcomed, there is a version of grief found here that a lot of authors water down in fiction. Very few write it as well and as completely as Melissa Simonson does.  Grief is not a linear experience but instead a cycle of highs and lows, numbness and heightened emotions and she's conceived characters that endure as we endure, lending to their realism. 

Perhaps Lingering is simply a cautionary tale of Artificial Intelligence and the ethics of its creation and treatment, a mechanical anecdote of Frankenstein if you will. At the heart of it though is an intimate look at loss and the lengths we might go to halt the grief cycle. There's a certain poetic coincidence that I happened to be reading this on the 10th anniversary of my mother's death.  For those of us that have experienced the loss of someone close to us, the answer to the "what if" is a blurry line between black and white, turning Lingering into an exercise in moral philosophy. 


Slave/mother to a herd of animals, Loch Ness monster enthusiast, breaker of many a wine glass. Do not challenge her to Harry Potter trivia unless you wish to be slaughtered.