After loving Station Eleven, I wanted to roll the dice on another post-apocalyptic kind of book. This was a great book. It was a little more haunting to read because, unlike S11, the world known by the characters gradually fades away into a memory. Electricity gets too expensive. Gas gets too expensive. Mobile phones become “The Device,” as antiquated as a shoe form. People with money congregate into armed and protected enclaves called “Communities” and, like exclusive law firms, let in only the elite, those deemed worthy. The rest of the world is essentially suffering to disrepair and lawlessness. The slow, withering away of society is described in flashbacks. The protagonists, Frida and Cal, live in current times in an abandoned cabin, rather safely away from the rest of broken society. They live with too-potent memories of the world of before, including the loss of family members, such as Cal’s parents and Frida’s brother. They miss their old jobs and friends. Cal’s college education intended to give him more knowledge and skills to use in this broken world, but even that indicates another community they are no longer part of. Their isolation is never quite the clean break they were hoping for when looking for a place to settle down. There is a trader, August, who brings supplies and little news. It is frighteningly isolated except for a family of four also carving out a meager existence in barely a house about an hour away.
Then Frida gets pregnant. Frida’s news doesn’t really come as a surprise. She slowly reveals it by being “late” first to herself, then to her partner Cal. It’s the aftermath of this realization where they decide to risk the world they have created and find others, in hopes of finding a group of people with whom they can better provide for their baby.
To say more about the story at this point would give away too much. So I will just say that once they decide to take this journey, it becomes very potent. What does it mean to leave the world they have created? What will they find? Will they really be safer or better off? August has strongly hinted they should just stay where they are, but he does not know about Frida’s pregnancy. When she is supposed to tell him, she instead barters some goods for a Vicodin, an opportunity to momentarily feel something other than the burden and monotony of the world she is in. I’ve added the tag “feminist” to my review because upon thinking about the book, women are strong drivers of the plot.
Lepucki has created a very interesting California, in which the normalcy of life is available to some and the rest scrabble at making an existence. As in the real world, this creates interesting opportunities for power dynamics. I kept thinking “nature abhors a vacuum” which is true about the social structures made and the wild entropy of abandoned landscapes. It’s a lush, vivid and interesting world Lepucki has created. It’s another interesting vehicle for a “what if” and “what would I” world that hopefully always remains theoretical.