There is no shortage of post-apocalyptic novels these days, and I just happened to be finishing one and starting another as the imposing force of Hurricane Irene bore down on New York City. Although the City was spared the brunt of Irene’s ire, there was a point on Saturday evening when we were under the triple threat of a hurricane, a tornado and an earthquake, and the apocalypse seemed that much more possible. Trapped in my sixth floor apartment looking out on Brooklyn streets that had never been so empty and probably never would be again, I was lucky to have a few good books to keep me company.
Zazen, by Vanessa Veselka (Red Lemonade): Twenty-seven year old Della lives in an unspecified future America where bombs go off with increasing frequency and more and more citizens are escaping the country for far off places like Costa Rica or Bali. Della deals with the vaguely-apocalyptic state of the world by slowly unraveling herself — she abandons her dissertation in paleontology, moves in with her cause-oriented brother (aptly named Credence) and takes a job at a vegan diner. She also collects pictures of self-immolators, maps the sprawling network of suburban strip malls and calls in fake bomb threats under the guise of an imaginary militant/hippie group. But Della’s world truly breaks apart when real bombs start to explode at her fake targets.
I can’t say enough about this highly original debut novel. Veselka melds the language of science and religion with a satirical look at materialism and subcultures. It is funny and poetic and has an interesting plot trajectory that I found truly innovative. Buy it from your local indie bookstore!
The Leftovers, by Tom Perrotta (St. Martin’s Press): Perrotta, the master of suburban malaise, is the author of Little Children and The Abstinence Teacher. In his newest novel, out tomorrow, he tackles these familiar themes with a new twist. On October 14th, millions of people disappeared from the world without warning. Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, humanitarians, alcoholics, children, even J. Lo and Vladimir Putin — there is no apparent rhyme or reason to their disappearance. To those left behind, the random cruelty of The Sudden Departure, as it comes to be known, is unfathomable and they desperately search for meaning where there is none. For the Garvey family, this coming to terms manifests in different ways. Heartbroken by the disappearance of her best friend’s daughter, mother Laurie joins the Guilty Remnant, a cult in which members wear all white, take a vow of silence, and chain smoke. Son Tom finds himself caught up in the Healing Hug movement, led by a guru called Holy Wayne who has a weakness for teenage girls. Meanwhile the two members of the Garvey family who stay at home — father Kevin, who becomes the town’s mayor, and daughter Jill, who shaves her head and self-medicates with drugs and sex — try to pick up the pieces of their disintegrating family.
In Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Stephen King called The Leftovers “the best ‘Twilight Zone’ episode you never saw — not ‘The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street’ but ‘The Monsters Are Us in Mapleton.’” I have only just started the book, but I am already enjoying the eerie familiarity of the story.