Monday, September 21, 2015

Book Review: The end of the world as we know it

I think this is one of the great narratives in literature - the world as we know it is ending, something new is quickly coming our way, and we can't go back to the way it was. It reminds me of my favorite scene in Mad Men, when the series has gotten further into the 60s and there are race riots and beat poets and women in the workplace and Don's old life in the suburbs no longer feels like the norm, Roger Sterling says something like, "When is everything going to get back to normal?"

Unintentionally, my summer reading this year - The Last Days of California, Station Eleven, and The Circle - all focused on worlds ending. Though they all have a futuristic/dystopian/apocalyptic premise, they were three very different books with different narratives about individual and societal change.

I was originally going to do this all as one post, but at last count it was approaching 1500 words and I think that is doing blogging wrong. (The English major inside me must have been more desperate to write about books than I realized.) So they will be broken up book by book over the next week - as popularized by the Serial and Limetown podcasts. ;)

The Last Days of California by Mary Miller | Recommended by Kelsey

Favorite line: "And just like that, she wasn't a vegetarian anymore. It was strange how you could be something and then not be that something so easily."

This book is ostensibly about the world ending (it's right there in the title), but is very much rooted in reality - in the very relatable story of a teenage girl, Jess, dealing with her insecurities and fighting with her sister and experimenting with her sexuality on a family road trip to California. It just so happens that that road trip is driven by her father's conviction that the Rapture is coming. He decides that the West Coast will be the best vantage point from which to watch God smite the unfaithful, one time zone at a time.

I loved the emotional intensity and the short story feeling of this book - I read it slowly since there were so many sentences and moments to relish. It's not an apocalyptic book outside of the premise - but it is very much about the world as Jess knows it ending as she makes the awkward transition into being a grown woman. (Cue this song.) Over the course of the book, she gains new knowledge into her family that she can't un-know and a new awareness of her parents as flawed and fragile humans. This book so resonated with my inner teenager and the part of me that still has those insecurities and is still not quite sure how to exist as an adult in the world.

Also on point is her ambivalence about religion - sometimes she thinks about what their lives will look like post-Rapture, other times she thinks it's all baloney, but she is as preoccupied with boys and her body as she is with the will of the Almighty. It reminded me of that stage when you're a kid and the rumors are spreading that Santa isn't real, but you still sort of think he is, and it somehow doesn't bother you that you don't have a definitive answer. That ability to sort of believe two contradictory things at once pretty much sums up what it feels like to be a teenager - or maybe just a human.

Next up: Station Eleven.

Illustrated by the daily cards I made for each book cover... in large part because the actual books had all been returned to the library by the time I wrote this post.


  1. You have such a way with words - that last paragraph is amazing. I read it several times, and then read it to my partner, who gave it an impressed nod... he's not big on me reading blog snippets to him, so that's a pretty high honour coming from him!

    1. Aww, thank you! This is the nicest compliment. And doubly so because I totally get the partner-reluctant-to-engage-with-the-blogging-world situation. :)