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Debut novelist Oppegaard shows considerable promise but poor follow through in a post-apocalyptic tale that owes much to paperback sci-fi and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

The novel opens in Florida, where pals Norman and Pops make small talk before Norman returns home to find that his wife Jordan has committed suicide by taking pills. Presently, a cadre of dark-robed figures arrives: “Their faces were pale and smooth, like polished skulls. Hardly human at all.” They are Collectors, who have carried away the dead ever since a plague called “the Despair” ushered in the near-demise of humankind by mass suicide five years earlier. After Norman guns one down before they can take his wife, he and Pops flee in a small plane, pursuing the rumor of a cure in Seattle. Shot down in Kansas City by other survivors, they make their way west, accompanied by a haunted teenage girl named Zero. Oppegaard demonstrates a terrific sense of the macabre with absorbing sequences featuring feral children, a house papered in suicide notes and other relics of a dying society. He also articulately ponders why such a plague might materialize. “Think of all the people who have died on this planet during the past millions of years,” muses the mayor of Kansas City, a convict before the plague. “Maybe all that negative energy has found a place to come together, to unify in its desire for revenge on the living, breathing people who still enjoy a world they no longer have any access to?” By the time Norman reaches Seattle, Pops is dead, and the Collectors have kidnapped Zero. What might have been sustained as a grim dystopian fantasy finishes with a nonsensical finale as Norman arms himself with super-grenades and heads out to “Death Island” to rescue Zero and face “the Source,” the unexplained director of the plague and the Collectors.

An inventive but erratic meditation on waiting for the end of the world.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-312-38110-3
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2008