i haven’t read will mcintosh’s Soft Apocalypse yet, but it is such a perfect description, i have to apply it to this book. as i understand it, it refers to the idea that our comfortable modern civilization will be destroyed slowly but steadily by the inevitable decline of resources and climate changes—an apocalypse caused by a winding down rather than a bang. and that’s what this is—a world wound down.
in a way, it is very similar to The Road. it’s got that incredibly spare prose—short sentences, small words, terse dialogue—that are usually indicative of a fast-paced book. but don’t be fooled. if you treat this like a fast-paced book, you will miss out. shonkwiler has an extremely rare gift for economy of prose, and he can move more plot in three short sentences than most writers can in a full paragraph. my impulse was to read quickly, and i had to keep reining myself in to allow the quiet meditative story time to do its thing. also like The Road, this story is driven by the actions of david parrish, a man attempting to protect his son sam from the hard-and-getting-harder realities of the new america.
which is noble, but protection might itself be a luxury, because it is a dangerous place to find yourself unprepared.
in a conversation with his long-suffering wife helene (oh, yeah—no quotations marks. another mccarthy nod):
You’re so hellbent on protecting Sam from life and death and all these things in the future and you don’t see that we’re one step away from having nothing. She stopped. We have to come first. Sam has to come first.
He doesn’t. Sam in twenty years does. You want him to have this perfect life you never had and it’s already too late for it. He was never you to begin with, and this—She lifted her arms to the land around them. This land isn’t even yours. You’re not a farmer. It’s not in your blood.
It could be in Sam’s. That’s just what I’m working for.
She shook her head.
It starts somewhere. It could start with him.
But this is all we have, right now. And we might not even have that for long. We might not get the time you asked for. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. We have to feed Sam to adulthood before you can bequeath him anything.
it’s bleak and gritty and bloody and dusty. there is a constant sense of foreboding, and we are definitely within the moral structures of the western genre here. it’s not quite the “anything goes” morality of the true apocalypse—check back in a few more years—but the social structures that were once in place to administer justice have eroded, and it can get a little biblical.
parrish falls mostly on the antihero side. while he does countless good deeds for his remaining neighbors, including building a home for a newly arrived and struggling family on his own land, these impulses are driven by a self-inflicted penance of reparations for atrocities he committed in wartime. he endures flashbacks and violent impulses, which he stifles with work and alcohol, but when a violent crime hits too close to home, he allows those impulses to become actions.
I’ve never had anything like this…
The sheriff shook his head. Never in thirty-three years. He breathed deep. But I imagine you’ve seen worse.
I’ve never seen hell and home at the same time.
and hell followed with him…
this is a definite recommend for people who like grit lit, westerns, aftermath stories, or lone justice-types.
it’s quietly horrific.