Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Book Review: Lost Everything
4 Stars - Strongly Recommend to readers with a love for the post-apocalyptic and with a load of patience
Publisher: Tor Books
Lost Everything takes its readers on a slow, sleepy crawl across the Susquehanna River in a not-so-distant post apocalyptic future where civil war and severe storms, brought about by economic hardships in the face of global warming, threaten to bring the country to its very knees and take the lives of anyone stupid enough to get caught up in between.
I've seen this book compared to McCarthy's The Road and Twain's Huckleberry Finn. And ok, sure, those are obvious choices, what with the mirrored elements of Cormac's sparse, dark storytelling and the whole two-guys-on-a-river-escaping-something-and-heading-towards-something-else-for-most-of-the-book thing, but where are the comparisons to Nevil Shute's On the Beach? I can't be the only one who sees a deeper connection to that one, can I?
You see, the novel follows recent widower and draft dodger Sunny Jim as he and his closest friend Reverend Bauxite travel north towards Binghamton, trying to outrun the war in an effort to reunite with his son and his sister before the Big One arrives.
The Big One looms ominously in the distance; a supposed storm of devastating proportions, rumored to wipe out everything in its path. Though Slattery never quite describes the storm itself, through the glimpses we are given, I envision it to be one of nuclear elements, and not so much one born of Mother Nature. I say this because our narrator - an unknown person who has survived these events and knew our protagonists and many of the other supporting characters well enough to relate their histories to us - appears to have met most of our guys after the event, and almost all of them are sick and dying. But sick with, or from, what? It's never clearly stated. So I might just totally be making shit up at this point. It's hard to say.
Then there's the whole Sunny Jim and Rev. B hitching a ride aboard the Carthage, a big steamboat that happens to be traveling in their direction, which is searching the waters and shores for survivors of the war, much like the submarine from On The Beach, whose captain also tours the waters from coast to coast searching for signs of life.
I also see similarities to OTB in many of the characters' nonchalance at facing the inevitable. In Shute's novel, the characters refuse to leave the comfort of their current lives, some even preferring to continue to work while others continue to shop for things like lawn chairs and groceries while listening to the radio as it gives updates on the radiation cloud that is making its way towards them. In a near mirror to that, our good ship Carthage runs into countless crowds at the shoreline - crowds of people who are not so much looking to escape as they are just searching for a way to kill the time until the end of the world comes to knock at their door.
So I started this review off by stating the book takes us on a slow, sleepy crawl up the river. And I mean that. Slattery is content taking his time, painting the picture in smooth, sweeping strokes, stopping every few feet to smell the half-dead roses and smoke-thickened air, before moving the story along again.
There are three distinct storylines within the novel - The River, The House, and The Highway. The River is where Sunny Jim and Rev. B are. The House is where Sunny Jim's son Aaron and sister Merry are, and is thus Jim's endgame. And The Highway is where the foot soldiers are, a small group of men who broke away from the main battle in an attempt to cut Jim off from his family.
There's a long span of time in which nothing really seems to happen. And at first it was frustrating for me, but eventually I realized it was necessary, that it was alright, because our three splintered story lines needed to cover some ground before they began converging on one another. And converge they do!
Lost Everything is what's left when everything else has been taken. It's what drives a person to continue to fight for their lives when there is really nothing left to live for. It is a powerful and persuasive second look at what might be most important to us. It forces you to reevaluate what you would take with you when you can't take it all. And it pushes you to look at those you love in a painfully new light.