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A final plane was landing. . . "This can't be happening," the passengers said to each other and to themselves, over nacho platters and in angry clusters in front of vending machines. They swore . . . because fury was the last defense against understanding what the news stations were reporting. Beneath the fury was something literally unspeakable, the television news carrying an implication that no one could yet bring themselves to consider. It was possible to comprehend the scope of the outbreak, but it wasn't possible to comprehend what it meant.

p.236

 

This EOTW novel gets right down to it: the opening gives us a "flu exploding like a neutron bomb"(37) to the backdrop of King Lear's on-the-moors scene where the lead actor forebodingly drops dead on stage from a heart attack. At the same time, a pandemic is leaving one person in every two hundred and fifty alivethat's 99% of the world's human population collecting moldand rendering almost all technological advances like electricity, the internal combustion engine, and the Internet as moot. However, Art remains in the form of the Traveling Symphony combined with a repertoire of actors performing Shakespeare plays along the small townships that have developed and survived twenty years after the pandemic. "People want what was best about the world"(p.38), one actor says. "Survival is insufficient"(p.58).

Unfortunately the above-quoted actor is not necessarily talking about the book he's living in. Quite frankly, this seems like a mainstream offering choosing to sell its wares in the Red Light District of Genretown. I am not convinced this story needs the shock therapy of a full-blown "emptied out"(p.190) world, since it makes so little use of its consequences. Anotherwords, the Major Event in humanity's total existence is treated as backdrop capitulated tonot even as atmosphere so muchand not as a conceptual player effecting the rest of the cast, usually considered as essential to most EOTW sagas. McCarthy's The Road this is not.

So, I conclude we just aren't on the same shelf. I could not attach to the characters, made more difficult by author Mandel's juxtapositions of space and time hopscotching to before, during, and after the disaster, appearing in no particular sequence except toward the end(1). This book is weak tea pouring credible dialogue and exposition, but without much definition. All the characters seem weary and fleshed with resignationwho wouldn't?but they don't ignite much passion or excitement, and don't feel terribly interested in impressing the reader, either. Everything feels kinda, well, run over and dusty. You know, like life.

I guess I finished the book with a shrug. Other views, lighting up plot points I missed, can be found here and here. Makes me consider a re-read . . .

 

1) Which, BTW, seems brilliant, but only after you finish the novel.

 

© text only © copyright 09/30/2014 by Larry Crawford

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