An apology to my regular readers. This was supposed to post at my book review blog lisaspiralreads.wordpress.com
by Alex Adams
Atria Books New York, NY 2012
This is another post apocalyptic novel. In this case, what destroys the majority of the population is a gene modifying drug, White Horse. Zoe works as a janitor for a pharmaceutical company. One day she arrives home and finds an ominous clay jar in the middle of her living room.
The story is told flashing back and forth between THEN and NOW. The story of THEN starts when Zoe finds the jar. The cats in her East Coast city apartment building disappear, her friends start dying and Zoe begins to wonder if she (the jar) is the culprit. She finds a therapist, Nick, to talk to about the jar. She tells him it is a dream.
The story of NOW is the story of Zoe’s journey across a landscape desolated by death. People either die from the plague, are immune to it – like Zoe, or survive as abominations. Mutations happen randomly and often send these survivors into psychosis. The abominations are more animal than animals. They are aggressive and filthy and dangerous. Zoe is traveling across Italy and Greece. Nick has left to find his parents and Zoe is traveling to find Nick.
At the core of this novel is an exploration of what it means to be human. Zoe strives to maintain her hold on what she considers human values. She is kind to strangers, even when it is dangerous. She defends and tries to protect those weaker than herself. She will fight, but when push comes to shove struggles with dealing a murderous blow.
There are people who are monsters before they become abominations. There are animals that become loyal friends. There are people, like Zoe’s parents, who recognize they are sick and make a pact with the neighbors about locking each other up when it goes too far. Could it be that there are also people mutated by White Horse who retain their humanity? It is a question that haunts Zoe on her journey.
This novel is dark and gory, but it is also compelling. The writing is very well done. The transitions between THEN and NOW are seamless. The turns of phrase are occasionally brilliant. In a “throw away scene” that illustrates her family dynamic Zoe he narrator says “My blind date’s ego is made of yeast, and the hotter it gets, the more he puffs up.” This typical delightfully vivid observation and sarcastic tone make me envious of the authors talent.
I was content at the end. The cover flaps indicate this is meant to be the first of a trilogy, but I am not left wanting more. I would be happy to read more of this authors work, but from my vantage this story has been told. Perhaps her next novel will prove me wrong.