Wow. Where to begin? Well, let me start with a short summary. It begins with the death from a massive heart attack of Arthur Leander on stage while playing Lear in King Lear. A young man from the audience tries to save him but is unsuccessful. The young man comforts a child actor who is onstage and witnesses Arthur’s death. All of this happens on the night that a flu pandemic starts to spread across the world. Within weeks most of the world’s population is dead and civilization ceases to exist.
An incomplete list:
No more diving into pools of chlorinated water lit green from below. No more ball games played out under floodlights. No more porch lights with moths fluttering on summer nights. No more trains running under the surface of cities on the dazzling power of the electric third rail. No more cities. No more films, except rarely, except with a generator drowning out half the dialogue, and only then for the first little while until the fuel for the generators ran out, because automobile gas goes stale after two or three years. Aviation gas lasts longer, but it was difficult to come by.
No more screens shining in the half-light as people raise their phones above the crowd to take pictures of concert states. No more concert stages lit by candy-colored halogens, no more electronica, punk, electric guitars.
No more pharmaceuticals. No more certainty of surviving a scratch on one’s hand, a cut on a finger while chopping vegetables for dinner, a dog bite.
The child actor, Kirsten, has survived. It’s twenty years after ground zero and she is traveling with The Symphony. They are a group of musicians and actors that travel around the upper Midwest performing in a circuit of small towns and communities that have arisen since the pandemic. The Symphony has left two of the company in one of these communities in order to safely deliver the couples baby. They return to find that the members were forced to leave the town when it was taken over by a militant religious group known as the light.
I loved this book. The story is fascinating. There are a lot of books out there that focus on what happens after the world, as we know it, ends. What will the survivors do? How long will it take to start over again? And this story attempts to answer that question. And it explores a bit about the world that is lost, and how to deal with those remembrances. And unlike many such books it focus more on the end and how it affects a group people, and how, after the turmoil, they begin to start being “civilized.”
Another thing I like about this book is that women are that women, it least in the groups of main characters, are not sent back to the stone age. Women are strong and capable of surviving without a man to protect and provide. Women can protect themselves, thank you very much. The conflicts faced by all survivors are equal. And that is something I enjoyed reading.