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Agnes in the Fifth Bardo

By

Loved it! 😍

A fun and friendly adventure through the possibilities of the afterlife

Synopsis

A major bummer, Agnes Blatt is dead.

Immediately after being struck by a car, she finds herself on a conveyor belt in the Fourth Bardo. There she joins forces with Jerry, her high school crush, and Patsy, an adorable dog who lived on her street.

The three dead souls travel together through all of the afterlife, battling demons, warding off ill-intentioned angels, and defending their three-souled union to everyone they meet.

When Agnes finds a knife that can cut through illusions, the trio hack their way through the wilderness of the afterlife, tumbling from one adventure to another.

What happens after a person dies? We the living, as mere survivors, usually view death with heaviness befitting a loss of something or a fear of its eventual occurrence. It is refreshing to imagine what the dead, if there is indeed an afterlife, would be doing or where they would be going. As the living still does the imaginings, however, we tend to impose our human emotions and imperfections on the dead.


Agnes in the Fifth Bardo is one such imagining. The most important thing to say about this book is that it is such a fun read. The author took a topic not generally treated lightly—death, or more specifically what happens after death—and just had fun merging a lot of theories associated with the afterlife. These characters have done more living, so to speak, in their afterlife than they have had alive and in each chapter, we follow these three interconnected souls (a young girl, the athlete she had a crush on, and a dog--a tripartite soul) find the meaning of their adventure. Eventually, and this realisation is something that I think will be different for each reader, the purpose is the journey itself. With the distinction between heaven and hell/angels and demons not as commonly proclaimed, the question for me was not "Do they get to heaven?" but rather "What's next for them?"


If there's one thing that may be categorised as either-this-or-that, it would be the references (usually unexplained) to popular culture and other bodies of work. Readers will either love the book because they are familiar with the referenced work or not like it because who knows what these characters are talking about? I guess it's fortunate that I've encountered most of them (including the delicious manifestation of Esther Hicks and Abraham--thank you for that). I'm reading this book as a repository of the author's preferences and education that it sometimes tends to go about thinking there's always Google anyway.


All in all, this book is a fun meandering through the messy, almost humanlike world of the afterlife!

Reviewed by

After university and before law school, Mylene offered her services to an advertising agency and a research company. The advertising agency guy said she wasn't bubbly enough and the research company said she was too animated she might want to try with an advertising agency.

Synopsis

A major bummer, Agnes Blatt is dead.

Immediately after being struck by a car, she finds herself on a conveyor belt in the Fourth Bardo. There she joins forces with Jerry, her high school crush, and Patsy, an adorable dog who lived on her street.

The three dead souls travel together through all of the afterlife, battling demons, warding off ill-intentioned angels, and defending their three-souled union to everyone they meet.

When Agnes finds a knife that can cut through illusions, the trio hack their way through the wilderness of the afterlife, tumbling from one adventure to another.

Dead


Drat! I’m dead. I was rounding the corner of my street and then just BOOM it happened. We don’t have sidewalks in my neighborhood in LA, so I was walking around a big SUV parked right by the hedge - the same hedge the selfish neighbor erected to give herself privacy, while compromising the safety of everyone else who has to use the intersection. But I digress.

So I was walking to the CVS to get some Flaming Hot Cheetos, and when I came to that corner, I was blindsided by a Cadillac limousine belonging to a different neighbor who runs a shady limo business out of his house. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened. The last thing I remember is the shocked face of the limo driver watching me fly through the air towards a big olive tree, headfirst. Then the lights went out.

When the lights came back on, I was in a forest of olive trees. It’s easy to walk through a forest without shoes when you weigh nothing. It was a satisfying sensation, really, to move without any pain or difficulty. If I had survived, I doubt I would have ever walked again. My neck vertebrae made a crunching sound. That’s really the last sound I heard. In the forest, there’s no sound other than the noises I make. I can whistle and I can talk. I’ve never really been able to sing.

Oh my god, how rude of me! I’m Agnes Blatt, and I’m dead. I live...I lived in the San Fernando Valley in Van Nuys. What else can I tell you? We lived in a ranch style home. I had a little brother who disliked me for no particular reason. My parents were proud of me, but they didn’t say it out loud. I can’t see them, by the way, in case you’re wondering. I don’t know if some people turn into ghosts and can haunt their families or whomever, but I didn’t draw that straw. I got the olive forest. Weird.

Here’s some more weird stuff about being dead: you can bring your phone, but it’s really only good for telling time. There’s no signal. I spent a while playing solitaire and then saw the battery was at less than 50% so I turned it off. I need the flashlight in case it gets dark. I'm wearing the same sloppy clothes I wore on my way to the drug store, but no shoes. I think they came off before the lights went out. Sweatpants and a Van Nuys High t-shirt are my uniform in the afterlife.

I suppose you want to know a little bit more about who I am. I’m young, so I’m not really sure who I was becoming. I was an honors student at Van Nuys High with a scholarship to Columbia University in New York. Now that’s off the table. I loved linguistics, which I had to take at Valley College because VN High didn’t offer it. I learned that words are magic. Literally. Before everyone could read, the illiterate believed the literate were magical beings, using signs and sorcery to commit words to stone or parchment. Reading the words, like a poem or an epitaph or whatever, was a magic spell. I kid you not. That’s what they teach you in linguistics.

I didn’t have any hardships other than this recent accident. I sailed through school, acing tests and essays. It was easy for me, like breathing. I couldn’t throw a ball to save my life, but then I wasn’t smart in my body that way. I was smart in my brain. I admired the football players who gracefully flew through the air to catch a ball and land face first, uninjured and unharmed. They didn’t admire me back. I wasn’t ugly, but I was a typical dork. Like most dorks, I had a gay stoner friend, Tom, and a hippy stoner friend, Pamela, but I didn’t smoke weed, so I wasn’t as cool. And I liked boys, like Tom did, but he was cool for being a gender traitor and I was just lame. I say gender traitor ironically, as in the Handmaid’s Tale but obviously he wasn’t a traitor of any kind. He was just a nice homophile teen who enjoyed talking to smart nerd girls.

Other students grow really attached to their friends. You see them linked up arm in arm, laughing and enjoying being a Valley girl. In the Valley, the Mexican girls don’t mix with the Armenian girls, but both groups are friends with black girls because they’re super stylish. Nobody’s very friendly with the Asians so they stick to themselves. Now that I’m dead, I can say all this racist stuff, and nobody will care. But really, the point I was making is that I felt only the slightest attachment, like a worn-out piece of velcro, to Pamela and Tom. I am sure they’re crying their eyes out right now, but they’ll forget me in a year. I didn’t leave a big chemtrail of emotional bonds behind me. Even my parents were indifferent. I liked it that way. I guess I don’t trust people. I had silent crushes on inappropriate boys at school. None of them noticed me. When I say inappropriate, I mean like Jerry Vitolo, a running back with a letter jacket, life of the party. I never got invited to those parties because I was just Agnes Blatt, a nobody with a scholarship to Columbia. Van Nuys High is a lot rougher than it was when Jeff Spiccoli and Danny Zucco went there. The teachers carry pepper spray in their purses. So, I got wonderful grades, but the teachers didn’t really want to chat to a threatening nerd like me.

If they had the internet in this olive grove, I would be able to do some research on life after death. Right now, I’m struggling to remember a book I read eons ago when I was like eight called “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying” by Sogyal Rinpoche. I remember being really impressed how carefully the Tibetans had traced the path through the afterlife on the way to the next phase. I recall there being a period after death when they don’t disturb the body and say prayers over it so that the person wandering in the empty space would have a voice to follow. I don’t hear any voices. Nobody’s praying for me. This sucks!!


* * *

Okay, so I tried to stop and sit down and without even realizing it, I was walking again. WTF? If I had a physical body, I would have collapsed by now, but this endless march forward through a maze of trees is harsh! My mind is tired. Hmm, I wonder if this is a mind or a soul? Well, probably both.

I like tried to walk straight into a tree to see what would happen and it was like that OK GO! treadmill video. My feet just wouldn’t step in the right spot to allow me to smack into a tree. If it didn’t make me queasy, I think I would try to keep going through the trees because it’s at least a challenge to break up the monotony. You know, I have no stomach so feeling queasy isn’t really such a terrible thing. I’m not gonna hurl. I just tried to climb a tree and the branches turned to powder, which clouded my vision for a minute. When I looked up, the branches were back in their original spot.

I’m so sick of this wandering. What if this is it? What if after you die, you’re all alone with no companions and nowhere to go except a forest of the very trees that killed you? Why couldn’t I have at least died at a flea market? It would be so much more interesting. But then again, if I died by a vintage manual typewriter falling from a high shelf in one of the stalls, I’d just end up wandering through an endless forest of QWERTY keyboards, ribbon, ink and sticky keys.

No, this is fine, I guess. I wonder how much time has passed on Earth. Am I on Earth? Has it been six months or six seconds? The forest is cloudy. The light source, presumably the sun but maybe something more supernatural, is pale at best. There’s no rain to water the trees, and no river.

Okay what was that? I just heard a murmur or a sob. I think maybe Tom or Pamela is crying over me. No wait. It’s a prayer. Pamela is really into Wicca - I think she’s chanting the Isis song. Tom is with her. I hear them both.

“Isis, Astarte, Diana, Hecate, Demeter, Kali, Inanna - We all come from the goddess, and to her we shall return like a drop of rain flowing to the ocean.”

Holy shit that felt good. If you’re reading this, remember to pray for your loved ones. We hear you!


About the author

Duncan MacLeod hails from Northern California. He wrote the New Adult "Psychotic Break Series". a collection of four books and a prequel. He is currently writing the books in the "Agnes" Young Adult series. He lives in Southern California with his husband. view profile

Published on July 16, 2020

40000 words

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Young Adult

Reviewed by

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