I am not saying anything you don’t already know when I tell you that this book is simply amazing.
I first read this book back for CBR6 (and shockingly — I think I was the first review of it!!), and recommended it to everyone I knew for months afterwards. I bought copies of it for birthdays, and housewarmings, and hostess gifts. I participated in the very first #cannonbookclub. I thought about getting a Survival is Insufficient tattoo. I was all about this book.
And I remember how it pushed me to think about how I would react if something like the events of this story — a deadly flu pandemic, made to sound like simply an inconvenience by the media, suddenly appearing from overseas — and obsessing about what my family could do to survive. My kids were little, and these thoughts kept me up at night. It didn’t help that the very first cases of Ebola had appeared in the US that same week. My mind didn’t stop racing.
This time, I missed the book club discussion, as I was too busy with work. I work as an editor in the publishing department for several academic, cardiology-focused journals, and we were working around the clock, publishing anything related to COVID-19. And I kept thinking, I’m working on this all day, do I really want to come home and read about a flu pandemic that wipes the bulk of humanity off the face of the earth?
And strangely, it turns out, I did. And not only did I want to read it, spending time in this world with these characters truly made me feel better about the events in our world today. The end, where Clark shows Kirsten the lights in the distance, is still filled with hope.
A few things were different this time around…last time, I felt like Kirsten was the main character, but this time I really felt like Arthur was. Last time, I thought a lot about hope for the future, and this time the sections about memory and remembering the past really stuck with me. This one part in particular, about what the survivors will never experience again, was simply stunning:
“An incomplete list:
No more diving into pools of chlorinated water lit green from below. No more ball games played out under floodlights. No more porch lights with moths fluttering on summer nights. No more trains running under the surface of cities on the dazzling power of the electric third rail. No more cities. No more films, except rarely, except with a generator drowning out half the dialogue, and only then for the first little while until the fuel for the generators ran out, because automobile gas goes stale after two or three years. Aviation gas lasts longer, but it was difficult to come by.
No more screens shining in the half-light as people raise their phones above the crowd to take pictures of concert stages. No more concert stages lit by candy-colored halogens, no more electronica, punk, electric guitars.
No more pharmaceuticals. No more certainty of surviving a scratch on one’s hand, a cut on a finger while chopping vegetables for dinner, a dog bite.
No more flight. No more towns glimpsed from the sky through airplane windows, points of glimmering light; no more looking down from thirty thousand feet and imagining the lives lit up by those lights at that moment. No more airplanes, no more requests to put your tray table in its upright and locked position – but no, this wasn’t true, there were still airplanes here and there. They stood dormant on runways and in hangars. They collected snow on their wings. In the cold months, they were ideal for food storage. In summer the ones near orchards were filled with trays of fruit that dehydrated in the heat. Teenagers snuck into them to have sex. Rust blossomed and streaked.
No more countries, all borders unmanned.
No more fire departments, no more police. No more road maintenance or garbage pickup. No more spacecraft rising up from Cape Canaveral, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, from Vandenburg, Plesetsk, Tanegashima, burning paths through the atmosphere into space.
No more Internet. No more social media, no more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches, cries for help and expressions of contentment and relationship-status updates with heart icons whole or broken, plans to meet up later, pleas, complaints, desires, pictures of babies dressed as bears or peppers for Halloween. No more reading and commenting on the lives of others, and in so doing, feeling slightly less alone in the room. No more avatars.”
All of the little things that make up our day-to-day existence, impossible to describe to someone who has always lived in a world without any of them.
I’m curious to know what will happen with the HBO show that is supposedly ready to premiere this fall…I can’t imagine people will be super excited to watch a show about a global pandemic. I hope we get to see it at some point, and I hope the show honors quality of the book (although, reading that they made Arthur’s character from Mexico is certainly a choice that made me say, huh?).
This remains a favorite. Can’t wait to read Glass Hotel!