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.
With the storm winds blowing and waters surging up the east coast it’s hard to be in the “holiday” spirit. With the elections looming and the mudslinging only getting worse it’s difficult to find the quiet mind for meditation. This is the season of harvest, gratitude and remembrance. Halloween when the ghosts walk and many cultures find themselves honoring their ancestors.
I wonder in this season what kind of ancestors we will be. What legacy will we leave for our descendants? Will they live in the zombie appocolypse because of some biohazard gone awry? Will global warming change the climate so much that they will have mega-storms as part of their daily lives? Will the bees disappear from their monoculture and pesticide laden diet and will our children follow after a generation or two of starvation and illness?
The planet has seen many upheavals in its long life. I’ve been reading the S.M. Stirling change series, which for post civilization literature is actually somewhat hopeful. The motto of one of the surviving enclaves “the 14th century as it SHOULD have been.” Complete with sanitation and plumbing. Or to quote another popular culture phrase, “Life will find a way.” On the bones of trees are already the hints of the new life of spring.
Such is the dilemma of working with the ancestors. Even my Grandparents would have been hard put to imagine life as we experience it today. Generations upon generations worked the land and even if they lived “in town” knew where their food was coming from and how it went from field to table. The idea of spending days inside (house to car to work and back) would have made them wonder about illness and fragility.
It’s good to be cautious about new things, to examine the possible repercussions of new directions. At the same time, if we are to be good ancestors to our descendants it is critical for us to remain open and flexible to possibilities we can hardly imagine. And now I’m round about to Halloween. It is the holiday of celebrating the imagination. Dressing up to become more powerful, or to face our fears. We open our doors to strangers who often don’t even appear to be human. Children costumed as animals, aliens, and nightmares offer a choice, “trick or treat?”
There are many kinds of ancestors with advice and wisdom to help us through the storms of our lives. There are the ancestors of our blood. The legacy of our family. We sort through the good and the bad, learning lessons from both kinds of examples. We choose which of our family traditions to carry forward and which to let fall by the wayside. May we choose wisely.
There are ancestors of the heart. The souls that have touched us in our lives. These are often people who were role models for us. Or perhaps they were just the kind hearted souls that appeared at the time we needed them most. They are our beloved friends and pets who we hold in our memories. Our heart connection makes their own lives a part of our personal stories. May we remember the love shared with these ancestors and may we further the legacy of open hearted love.
There are ancestors of the spirit. These are our heroes. The souls who’s stories inspire us. They are the shining lights that encourage us to dream, to strive, to do better. Let us our fears, make our choices, and move forward towards a legacy of spirit that continues to inspire and enrich those who come after.