Is it possible to find an adequate tone or combination of tones, an adequate form or combination of forms, for the purpose of contemplating extinction? If the whole of culture is an attempt to deny the reality of (individual) death, then the answer would have to be no, but it’s impossible not to keep on trying. Failure comes with the territory, yet the failures in Offill’s novel are of a different character. It’s rare to find such a programmatic opposition between the procedures of a book and the values behind it. How can an aesthetic that exalts the fragment serve the human agenda of reconnecting us with the terrible things we would rather not think about?