In Kevin Brockmeier’s vision of the afterlife, you die and go to the City, a big metropolitan way station between life and nothingness. It’s sort of like Judgment City in Albert Brooks’ Defending Your Life, except here you stay only as long as someone remains alive on earth to remember you. Naturally, when a killer plague called the Blinks sweeps the planet, the City gets a lot less crowded, and fairly soon the handful of remaining City dwellers realize they’re all connected by a still-living woman named Laura, who’s plague-free and stuck all alone crossing subzero Antarctica! Suffice it to say, Brockmeier’s second novel, The Brief History of the Dead, is meticulously imagined. And his writing is as elegant as it was in 2003’s The Truth About Celia, even if the end result isn’t as wrenching.