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by Nathaniel Rich

Pub Date: April 2nd, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-374-22424-0
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

A mathematician with a combination of unusual gifts sees the worst coming in this strange rumination on catastrophe prediction.

Mitchell Zukor is the protagonist of this open-ended exercise in paranoia by Rich (The Mayor’s Tongue, 2008, etc.). The novel opens with a slight remembrance of the brilliant young analyst by a college classmate, both part of a generation permanently scarred by an earthquake that completely razes Seattle. Relatively unfazed but simmering at his core, Zukor does the responsible thing and takes a job as a financial analyst at a NYC firm. But soon after, he meets the mysterious Alec Charnoble of FutureWorld, a company that advises its clients against potential disasters that would inevitably affect their markets—a perfect platform for Zukor’s vigilant intellect. Mitchell also initiates a nonromantic, epistolary relationship with Elsa Bruner, a classmate who has as thoroughly rejected the urban spectrum as Zukor has immersed himself in it, fleeing to a remote retreat in Maine. “It’s curiosity that’s my problem,” Zukor writes to her. “I wish I didn’t want to know the first thing about plate tectonics or nuclear war, but I do. So I learn more. And the more I learn, the more I find there is to fear.” His worst fears come to life when he successfully predicts that a massive hurricane will wipe out New York City, sending Zukor and his protégé into the chaos. Zukor’s impossibly accurate prediction makes him a cult figure of sorts, the visionary held hostage by his own fear. In an already uneasy age, Rich zeroes in on our collective anxiety with a story of wild-eyed ingenuity that is both meditative and propulsive, often simultaneously. With its fits of paranoia and eerily prescient scenario, this book is not comfortable reading, but it’s also nearly impossible to put down.

An oddly affectionate portrait of disaster relief that deftly mocks the indemnity mindset of a culture under siege.