In this absurdist novel set in a world of serial apocalypses, a man tries to make sense of his existence.
Marshall is no longer shocked by cataclysmic events (“It was just the apocalypse. An earthquake apocalypse” this morning; next month, week, or even today there will be another of a different kind). Most people panic anyway, rioting or seeking last-chance experiences that Bosch could have painted: “Another nude, copulating pile, a mass of arms and legs…old, young, beautiful, diseased. It didn’t seem to matter.” The terror ends the way it usually does, with a gray-haired man—Malcolm—projected on the horizon who relays reassurance: “The Apocalypse Amelioration Agency has the situation well in hand.” Unfortunately, solving one apocalypse tends to beget another. Marshall meets Bonnie, a slight but fierce woman with long pale hair, and they become a couple. She keeps a lot to herself, but one day tells Marshall of her plans. The only way to ensure no more apocalypses, she argues, is to end everything so “it can’t end again.” Marshall agrees, but destroying the globe is harder than they think, as they discover over several near-world-ending disasters. Their efforts, however, lead them to the man behind the Apocalypse Amelioration Agency’s curtain and to a new understanding of life. Three italicized Interludes by an at-first-unnamed narrator add philosophical musings. Atkinson (Not Quite So Stories, 2016, etc.) controls the tone well in his novel, keeping a suitable balance between real human emotions and deadpan farce. Explanations for bizarre events are sufficiently plausible, but a crucial sense of mystery remains even after final disclosures, as with the apocalypse where everyone of Jewish background disappears after climbing to a city of gold in the sky as a voice chants, “Something about Elijah and Jacob. Bondage.” Less successful are the Interludes, an unnecessary gloss on the book’s ideas that seems like writerly insecurity. In addition, the revealed truth is a bit pat.
An imaginative engagement with existential questions raised by a surfeit of apocalypses.