A moralistic debut novel focuses on disparate characters caught in a bleak landscape.
As the narrator explains at the outset of his journey, “I wandered blindly and aimlessly through the darkness, often having to pause to cough the dust out of my lungs.” What exactly is causing the darkness or the dust is unclear, although the narrator soon discovers that he is not alone in surroundings that can best be described as post-apocalyptic. Among the “skeletons of decimated buildings” and “charred shells of cars strewn at random like dead leaves” are people with stories to tell. Given the environment in which they are placed, it comes as no surprise that their tales are not happy ones. Take David Steele, a once successful pastor who worked his way up from humble beginnings to become an accomplished author and leader of his own megachurch. After becoming involved in a homosexual relationship, he finds that his accomplishments seem to vanish before his eyes. Then there is an unnamed adolescent whose “voice trembled with pure hatred.” Telling the story of his violent activities with a group of neo-Nazis, the youth details days filled with beer and propaganda that end with him alone, with a gun, in a desert. What the narrator will gather from these accounts remains mysterious, though they all seem to point in one way or another toward God. Working in the tradition of Dante, the author forces the reader to examine the lives of the fallen, whether they happen to be a professional athlete or a young woman in the throes of Los Angeles excitement. The stories of these lives tend to be lengthy, blunt, and incorporated with gems of wisdom. Though the California girl has a lot of clichéd experiences, such as visiting a reality TV star’s home that is “fucking huge, but really tacky,” she is nevertheless able to say quite succinctly: “You know, people always say that kids grow up too fast nowadays. But it seems to me like so many people in this country never grow up at all.” At nearly 1,000 pages, portions prove to be drawn out, but the overall senses of passion and urgency never waver.
Critical of much in the modern world and hardly subtle, this post-apocalyptic tale offers plenty of fury and angst.