South Africa–born Morley makes a wild U-turn from the semiautobiographical Come Sunday (2009) to write a captivity novel that morphs into a post-apocalyptic adventure.
Blythe is abducted at age 16 by Dobbs, a creepy survivalist who insists he’s saving her from the imminent Armageddon. She spends 18 years below ground in an abandoned missile silo near her Kansas home, bearing a son, Adam, who is 15 when Blythe kills Dobbs with a crochet needle and emerges Above to find that there actually was a disaster: The meltdown of 90 nuclear reactors some 15 years ago killed off most of the global population and left the rest deformed by radiation. In a world where most babies are Defectives, genetically sound Adam is a hot commodity; with the help of a sympathetic employee, he and Blythe escape the sinister facility planning to harvest his sperm and travel across the devastated landscape in search of her family. This powerful material suffers from the imperfect integration of its component parts. More than half the novel chronicles Blythe’s years in the silo—it's Room told from the mother’s point of view but without Emma Donoghue’s stylistic and thematic mastery. Moving episodically through 18 years, the narrative throws out shards of insight into the evolution of Blythe’s relationship with Dobbs and her strategies to protect Adam, but they never cohere into a full picture. Blythe’s and Adam’s initial post-silo wanderings nicely render her growing awareness that something is very wrong Above, but they occupy too many pages given the limited amount of space Morley has left herself to explore the new reality they must cope with. The excellent scenes following their escape, which show a shattered humanity trying to rebuild in small communities of damaged people, require more development to make the denouement in Blythe’s ruined hometown truly meaningful, though it’s quite moving nonetheless.
A whole host of interesting ideas stuffed into a lopsided structure that doesn’t support the author’s high ambitions. Still, very intriguing and provocative.