(Or our favorite under-appreciated, under-loved, long-forgotten or never heard of books that we know you'll love just as much as we do when we convince you to finally read them!...phew....books....)
This week's featured books come from Jill at Rhapsody in Books. (Thanks Jill!!) On Tuesday, Doomsday Book was featured and today is Jill's other suggestion, “This is the Way The World Ends” by James Morrow.
In 1995, George Paxton is an ordinary American living an ordinary life in an ordinary town. Content as a tombstone carver and family man, George lacks only one thing: a fashionable "scopas" survival suit--complete with sanitary facilities and a Colt.45--to protect his daughter in the event of nuclear war.
Then, through a twist of fate, George secures the coveted suit, a deluxe golden model, for the price of a mere signature. Unfortunately, what he signs proves to be a diabolical pact affirming his complicity in the escalating arms race, and as the war that could never happen happens, George is whisked into the past and the future to face the consequences of his actions.
Jill once more provided me with an excellent review of this book for this feature:
This satiric noir sci-fi novel is about a global nuclear holocaust from the point of view of the victims – i.e., the dead, who place the survivors on trial for having killed them. In spite of a plot that could be dreadfully sad, Morrow has a wicked sense of humor that will appeal to fans of Kurt Vonnegut and even Jonathan Swift.
One of the blurbs calls this book “a surrealistic, dark comedy” which I think captures its tone precisely. What I love so much about this book is that it hits the mark in so many ways.
I first read this many years ago, and found to my delight (or dismay!) that when I reread it last year, it didn’t seem dated at all. And when the trial finally yields the motive for the disaster, even as you laugh out loud you will want to stand up and shout in terror, “This could actually happen!!!”
I found some interesting comments the author made which have piqued my interest even more!
At first blush, a critic might bracket This Is the Way the World Ends with other post-holocaust fiction. From Alas, Babylon through A Canticle for Leibowitz to Riddley Walker, this genre has commonly styled itself an avatar of hope. My goal lay elsewhere. I began with the assumption that most people would prefer to exercise hope before the warheads arrive. I wanted to speak for victims, not celebrate survivors.
Even the most elaborate nuclear exchange would probably fail to extinguish Homo sapiens. Some of us will muddle through. In This Is the Way the World Ends, though, I decided to use self-extinction as a metaphor for the legions who won't make it. It's all very well to valorize our species's undoubted resilience, but a mass grave is hardly a fit monument to such sentiments.
Reading Jonathan Schell's The Fate of the Earth., I was particularly impressed by one line: "The right vantage point from which to view a holocaust is that of a corpse." It struck me that most nuclear-war fiction is really a kind of pornography, inviting us to identify with winners while the losers, the corpses, drop away. So how might a novelist assume the vantage point of the dead? Through recourse, I reasoned, to the tools of speculative fiction. Eventually I hit upon the conceit of "the unadmitted," the generations whose births were canceled by the extinction. I gave them flesh and a temporary lease on life.
Reprinted from SFWA Bulletin
This book has grabbed me just like Jill's other suggestion, and I'm on my way to the bookstore to snag a copy. If your local bookstore is out of stock, (it's been around for a while) and you just can't wait, here you go....
Y'all come back now, I'll be featuring James Morrow one more time, hopefully pretty soon! And next week, a reader named Deslily has three favorite authors for the project.