A post-apocalyptic sci-fi Western, short story writer Carr’s (The Shape of Every Monster Yet To Come, 2014, etc.) debut novel traces a brief and hobbled journey across the enduring landscape of the end of the world.
Around the year 2017, a terrible new addiction afflicted humanity. People discovered they could sip shadows, ingesting a darkness more powerful than the strongest drug. Predictably, the other side of the high is abuse, withdrawal, desperation, depravity. In short order, society crumbles; tribalism reigns; all becomes violence and stark waste. A century and a half later, the addiction has come to its finale. In the precisely realized landscape of southern Texas, Mira (the daughter of a shadow-stolen mother), Murk (an appealingly foul, shadow-addict amputee), and Bale (a "domer" raised in a hermetically sealed settlement that eliminates natural light) embark on a muddled quest across the Texas scrub to…do something. Ostensibly, their mission is clear—they must find and kill Joe Clover, the addict who stole Mira’s mother’s shadow, before Halley’s comet returns—but, as with so much else in this exuberant book, their motive is overwhelmed by the sheer number of characters and side plots. We meet the ferocious women of the Shadowless Army; the Faulkner-ian Doc; the Dr. Strangelove–esque Capt. Flamsteed; Bale’s doomed brother, Drummond, and more and more and more besides. This, coupled with an uneven tone which borrows just as heavily from Flannery O’Connor as it does from Chuck Palahniuk and an even more unfortunate tendency toward the exploitative grotesque (amputees are an endless source of sight gags and are sometimes beaten to death with their own peg legs; a saloon piano player is a waddling one-eyed midget possessing a “voice, quasi-maniacal”), conspires to create a book whose allegiances tend toward the shock and awe of its conceit and shy away from the coherent development of either its world or its main characters.
A promising premise and intriguing core characters but, ultimately, not enough cohesion between the plots to stick them all together.