Read: as a review copy from LibraryThing Early Reviewers (Riverhead, 288 pages, originally published September 2010)
Rating: 4 out of 10 (finished 11/21/10)
Synopsis: Things come undone with shocking rapidity when a flu pandemic ravages America. Cole, the son of liberal atheists and a smart, self-contained boy who loves to draw and counts explorer among his favorite words, narrates Nuñez’s sixth gripping novel, one of many recent literary postapocalyptic tales. The pandemic orphans and nearly kills Cole, who ends up living with a kindhearted Evangelical pastor and his wife in Salvation City, a community preparing for the Rapture. It’s all bible studies, guns, rapture children, and saved adults, including fiercely tattooed, one-eyed Mason. As Cole emerges from a thicket of grief and the confusion of sexual awakening and recognizes and trusts his hunger for education and the larger world, however damaged and dangerous, Nuñez brilliantly contrasts epic social failure and tragedy with the unfurling of one promising life, reminding us that even in the worst of times, we seek coherence, discovery, and connection.
Overall Impression: Gripping? Meh. I didn’t find it all that exciting. While I did like Nunez’s writing style (incredibly spare), I wasn’t able to grasp onto the characters or their situation. Despite all the signs that it should be a desperate time, I didn’t feel it. Compared to other dystopian literature (if this can even be called dystopian…as Lenore says below, its “like a regular novel dressed up in apocalyptic clothing”), it never felt compelling or dangerous or heart breaking. It did feel empty at points, but that was all I got out of it. Although I am a Christian, I am so far removed from the conservative, evangelical style of church that is portrayed in this book, although I did think that she did portray the pastor and his wife fairly sympathetically (it would have been so easy to have turned them into caricatures).
Then it just…sort of…ends…
Pros: The writing style worked and was beautiful at some points.
Cons: I never connected with the story or the characters. I didn’t really care about anyone.
Other blogger opinions:
Presenting Lenore: “It’s like a regular novel dressed up in apocalyptic clothing.”
Raging Bibliomania: “While I had some very troublesome issues with this book, I feel that the writing and subject matter were presented very well.”
Diane Leach: “And so Sigrid Nunez, who worked for Susan Sontag as a young writer, citing this most liberal and astringent of intellectuals as a critical influence on her own work, has written a sympathetic view of American Right Wing Christians.”
Other books I’ve read by Sigrid Nunez: none
Legal gobbledygook: I received this book free from LibraryThing as part of their Early Reviewers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”