Wednesday, August 13, 2008

More Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

Eleanor found a new book about what happens after the apocalypse, this one happening because an asteroid hits the moon and knocks its orbit closer to earth, causing tidal waves, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. It's called Life as We Knew It and is by Susan Beth Pfeffer (see her blog here).

Eleanor read the book in one morning and was then very happy to come out of her reading trance and find that the sun was shining, it was summer, and we could have lunch. I read it in one evening, soon after. I found it less interesting than Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now because its scope is necessarily smaller (the characters stay in their small Pennsylvania town). There are some interesting parts, though. When the 16-year-old narrator, Miranda, does some research on the moon before the asteroid hits, she finds that

"lots of people didn't really care that there were men walking on the moon [in 1969]. They all watched Star Trek (the original, old lousy-effects Beam Me Up Scotty Star Trek) and they were used to seeing Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock hopping around the universe so real people walking on the real moon wasn't as exciting.
I think that's funny. Men were walking on the moon for the very first time in history and people preferred watching Dr. McCoy say, "He's dead, Jim," for the thousandth time.
I wasn't exactly sure how to turn that into a paper, so Mom and I talked about it, about how fiction can have more power than reality and how in 1969 there was a lot of cynicism because of Vietnam and the sixties and all that and there were people who didn't think men were really on the moon and thought it was a hoax."

The narrator simplifies issues in a way that does remind me of listening to 15 and 16 year old girls talk. But also, as a 9-year-old in 1969, I remember being allowed to stay up late to watch the moon landing, mostly at the insistence of my younger brother (who has always been more aware of reality).

Just after the asteroid hits, Miranda goes into town with her mother and brother and sees the first changes:

"When we got to the road with McDonald's and Burger King, we saw there was hardly any traffic. We drove up to McDonald's, only it was closed. So were Burger King and KFC and Taco Bell. All the fast food places were closed.
'Maybe they're just closed because it's Sunday,' I said.
'Or because tomorrow's a national day of mourning,' Jonny said.
'They're probably just waiting for the electricity to run full time,' Mom said.
It felt weird, though, seeing them all closed, the same kind of weird when you see the moon and it's just a little too big and too bright.
I guess I always felt even if the world came to an end, McDonald's would still be open."

I was reminded, in reverse, of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale at the moment when the handmaid sees a dish towel in the kitchen of the house where she is living, and it's jarring to her, that something so ordinary could look just the same when her life has changed so much.

In addition to the compliment I'm paying Pfeffer by saying that anything in her book reminds me of The Handmaid's Tale, one of my favorite books, I found moments when her narrator not only sounded authentically 16, but also phrased something in a way that was both amusing and frightening, like "Here's the funny thing about the world coming to an end. Once it gets going, it doesn't seem to stop." Or, towards the end, "Do people ever realize how precious life is? I know I never did before. There was always time. There was always a future." One of the most appealing ironies of Life As We Knew It is that Miranda and her younger brother, who are used to being regarded as the future of their family, keep having to reassess what kind of future that can be. That's what makes this book a compelling read, and will be especially appealing to the young adult audience.

1 comment:

J. Kaye Oldner said...

I really loved this book too and found that once I started, I couldn't put it down.