Bingo square: Throwback Thursday
16 year old Ann Burden is alone in the world. Her valley has miraculously survived a world ending event; touched on all sides by deadness and poisoned air, she has no way to leave or any idea if others have survived.
Then one day a man appears in the distance, heading for her sanctuary. He has on a suit that protects him and pulls a wagon of supplies. Ann chooses to hide in a cave near her home before he arrives, watching and waiting, unsure whether to be thrilled another person exists or scared of who he might be. She’s brought out of hiding when he unknowingly swims in a poisoned creek, becoming sick from the radiation. After nursing him back to health, she and Mr Loomis begin to plan for their future in the valley. But it’s not long before Ann feels threatened by Loomis. The last man on Earth is not what he seems.
I read this book over and over when I was a teenager. It was one of my favourites, but I haven’t picked it up in over twenty years. I can see why I liked it then – lone teenage girl fighting for survival in a dead world. Right up my alley. And a lot of it holds up. It’s compelling enough with a fast pace so it’s a quick read, and you want to find out what happens to Ann. But there’s also very little character development. I don’t know much about Ann to say she’s the protagonist. We barely get her likes and dislikes, and there’s not much sense of what her life was like before ‘the war’. It rarely lets her feel emotions either. The rest of her family left the safety of the valley to find other people and never returned. We can assume they’re dead, but she never dwells on that or how she feels about it. She’s a bit robotic. And Loomis is given even less attention. We don’t know what makes him tick or why he acts the way he does towards Ann. Is it just pure survival mode? Was he like this before the world ended or has he gone mad?
I was also irritated by Ann and her lack of action throughout. I know she’s only 16 but she’s survived for a while on her own, she’s made of tough stuff. And yet she lets Loomis walk all over her. She starts thinking about marrying him about five days after he arrives which is either incredibly pragmatic or annoyingly romantic. ‘The whole idea was thrilling.’ I’ll go with silly and romantic. Which may be what a male author thinks of a 16 year old girl, even one who has been surviving by her wits alone at the end of the world. ‘Then it occurred to me, Mr Loomis had not indicated the slightest interest in any such idea.’ Well let’s see Ann, a) it’s been a week, b) he’s sick from radiation poisoning, c) he’s way older than you, d) it’s the end of the world. Possibly he’s got other things on his mind than a wedding, but sure, chat about it when he’s recovered, see if you’re on the same page.
She quickly comes to think of it as their valley, which is really annoying. Sure it’s the last habitable place on Earth (as far as we know), but she’s lived there all her life, it’s named for her family, he should put some work in before he gets to consider it partly his. But no, she just lets him do whatever.
And then she’s trapped in your basic nightmare as a woman. ‘I did not want to read anything, but the fact is I did not know how to refuse.’ There’s a stronger man whose nature and actions are difficult to predict, with no one around to offer help if you need it. So you go along with what you think they want in the hope that they won’t hurt you/turn out to be a psychopath. Unfortunately for Ann her last man on Earth is unhinged (or just your typical dude if you’re feeling especially cynical) and she wakes one night to him standing over her bed. After she escapes what we can assume would be a sexual assault (‘I knew what he was planning to do as clearly as if he had told me’) she heads back to the cave.
Ann, bless her, starts to think of ways they could share the valley, ‘even though not as friends.’ He gets the house, she does all the work on the garden and tending to the animals, and she gives him half of everything, even bringing food from the store. She’s basically his servant so he won’t get mad. I just wanted her to leave poison water on his porch as his rations and be done.
The final showdown is a bit of a damp squib and I definitely wanted more from and for Ann, but overall I enjoyed this walk down memory lane.
(P.S. Though this is not the ‘The Book was Better’ square, it could have been, as I watched the movie of this not long ago. It is an incredibly loose interpretation of the book, bringing in a third character in the form of Chris Pine (why wouldn’t you?), aging Ann up and becoming more of a love triangle. I enjoyed it all the same. It’s a slow burn and murky with who you can trust, and I thought everyone was great in it. It’s worth a watch.)