So the director from my MFA program wandered into my office last week and asked if I’d like to introduce an author for our university’s monthly book talks. H*ll yes, I would! Cue reading The Rending and the Nest so I don’t sound like an idiot when I go up to make the introductions. Since I’d never heard of Kaethe Schwehn before, I was worried that there was a very distinct possibility I might hate the book and then have to lie from a podium to an audience full of students.
But I’m happy to report no lying will commence this day! This book was awesome. It’s very Station 11, with a heavier focus on the after of the post-apocalypse than the before, and I loved being in this world.
Our main character, Mira is our glimpse into the world after “The Rending” in which ninety-five percent of earth’s population inexplicably vanished along with most animals and even some of the buildings. The world is a mess with all the detritus of modern suburban living ends up in sky-high piles of useless junk. There’s no sun, no rain, and a kind of strange stasis. Mira and a group of people from the mall she wakes up in form a community called Zion and eek out a living plundering useful garbage out of the piles and growing root vegetables for sustenance. Mira’s work in Zion creates a survivalist normalcy until her best friend becomes pregnant and gives birth not to a baby, but an inanimate plastic doll. As other women fall pregnant and begin birthing more inanimate objects, the inhabitants of Zion are left to ponder yet another inexplicable phenomena of this new world, while the women grapple with torn emotions over mothering these objects. Their grief and confusion leave the community open to the strange teachings of a man named Michael from another colony, endangering everything the Zionists have worked hard to hold together.
One of the things I really loved about this book was that Schwehn deftly handles the flash-backs to the before times without losing the poignant desolation of the present, which is a thing I think many apocalyptic stories struggle with. Schwehn’s story never feels like a flashback told in segments. The prose lilts beautifully from past to present through memory, objects, and description. She covers heavy topics with a light hand that never feels pushy or preachy, and she handles a fairly large cast without running into the flat-background character issue.
Her dialogue was a little stunty in the first few pages, but once I got into the rhythm of her storytelling the book was a delight. If you enjoyed Station 11, I highly recommend this book.