I’m having very mixed feelings about “Station Eleven.” It sure checks a lot of boxes for me including post-apocalyptic survival, a plague, interconnected characters, graceful exposition, and a creepy antagonist. But it misses the mark on originality and heart.
Hard to summarize, and it skips back and forward in time a lot (effortlessly, to its credit), this is the story of a handful of individuals affected by a civilization-ending strain of the swine flu. These people are all connected through their various relationships with a world-famous actor (Arthur) who dies within the first few pages of a non-flu-related heart attack. The story takes place both in the past (where we fill in the blanks with details about their respective relationships with Arthur), the present established in the first chapter, where Arthur is performing in a stage production of “King Lear” at the Elgin Theater in Toronto, and the future, where there are only a few survivors, struggling to make their way through a world without electricity, running water, governance, and so on. One of Arthur’s ex-wives spent her pre-plague life writing a graphic novel called “Station Eleven,” also a post-civilization survival tale that mirrors the lives of the flu-survivors, two of whom have copies of the first two issues of the comic, gifted to them before the epidemic by Arthur himself.
There’s something lazy about this novel. The descriptions of the comic itself are stunning, and the parallels are poignant, but also very obvious. The characters are stock and predictable. The post-civilization world has been described before (it reminded me a lot of that wildly bad TV series a few years ago… “Revolution”) and felt stale. And as a professional in the theater, the scenes that took place backstage and onstage at the production of “Lear” at the Elgin were distracting and insultingly unresearched.
So frustrating. Almost great.