In this absorbing debut novel, 95 percent of the world's population has disappeared without explanation. Those who remain call this event the Rending and struggle to eke out an existence without knowing what has happened or why.
Schwehn (Tailings: A Memoir, 2014) offers a world that is intensely familiar yet strange: she uses real locations with telling details, like a deserted Barnes & Noble and the amusement park at the Mall of America. The environment she creates is eerie and gloomy: the sun is gone and the sky is perpetually gray. Weather has ceased to exist (it’s a slightly chilly 55 degrees all the time), and the Earth is periodically saturated from within. Our narrator, Mira, is melancholy, missing her parents and especially her younger brother, Bim, but also intrepid and strong. Her job in Zion, the hardscrabble community she lives in, is to climb the Piles, large mountains of junk from the world Before that appeared during the Rending, looking for useful items—a piece of flexible tubing here, a plastic tub there. When Mira’s best friend, Lana, gets pregnant—a first since the Rending—and then gives birth to an inanimate object, and when other women in Zion follow suit, Mira and her companions must reimagine their existence again and again, searching for meaning without ever really finding answers. The arrival of a charismatic yet sinister leader named Michael further complicates matters, especially when he endeavors to take Lana to the Zoo, where he’s the keeper of human Inhabitants he insists aren't captives.
Schwehn's narrator establishes her place among post-apocalyptic heroines through her willingness to remake the world from what she has left and her unlikely arrival at hope.