Ash travels to the desert highlands of Snowflake, Arizona, to look for his older stepbrother, Bly, who has disappeared to this rural enclave for reasons unknown.
Ash, 18 and assumed white, succeeds in finding Bly, but what he discovers in Snowflake keeps him there far longer than expected, and for reasons he couldn’t have predicted. Here he finds an odd community of white, mostly middle-aged misfits who are all sick, their bodies ravaged by chemicals ubiquitous to daily life. The canaries, as they call themselves, are a warning of what is to come to broader society, yet their suffering is dismissed by the medical establishment. To survive, they’ve created a community of mutual care far from the toxins of city living. The novel turns the post-apocalypse genre on its head, forgoing extremes to instead focus on the subtleties of pre-apocalyptic days. It takes time to sink into Sedgwick’s (The Monsters We Deserve, 2018, etc.) odd cadence, which may put off some readers, but the payoff for those who push through is tremendous. Expert foreshadowing pulls readers along to unavoidable disaster; when the blows arrive, they land with a visceral punch. Sedgwick’s restraint is remarkable, and he achieves something special with the raw, vulnerable humanity he reveals through these characters. Their relationships are deep yet fraught; their suffering and humor equally sincere.
An ominous, relevant, and uniquely compelling read. (author’s note) (Fiction. 15-adult)