by Peter Heller
If Karen Walker Thompson’s The Age of Miracles is a kindler gentler end of the world coming of age story, this is a brutish yet not unreflective middle aged crisis apocalypse story.
In Heller’s story the end of the world comes about via mutated flu virus that wipes out 99% of the population, leaving only those folks (in some cases, families) with a natural immunity behind. We don’t see the collapse in real time as it were — this is years after most people have died, and most of those left are decidedly “Not Nice”. Not Nice means shoot first and ask questions later; it means assuming just about everyone left alive is going to try and steal your resources and/or kill you.
As if this weren’t all bad enough, the environment isn’t going make survival any easier. Climate change means drought, means more animals are gone, means things are just going to get worse. It isn’t just human life and society that turns out to be in ruins, the whole ecosystem is in turmoil.
Given this bleak setup, what’s the point? If civilization collapses, if the love of your life dies, if you are going to outlive your dog, why wake up in the morning? So maybe you can find connection again — and break your heart open again — before you eventually die? Because you are curious, about what really happened and might happen next?
Yeah, that is probably it.
It isn’t that I didn’t like the book. I enjoyed reading it, despite some of Heller’s quirks (the stunted sentences, the handling of dialogue) and occasional heavy-handedness (His dog, too? And of course, love again in the ruins).
I find it fascinating I stayed up well past my bedtime reading about the end of the world. In Heller’s book, the world as we know it is definitely over, and not going to return — it’s just that there are survivors left, some trying to be more human than others.