Nick Cole made me cry.
I admit I´m a crier. As opposed of being a whiner, now that´s a whole different animal. True, I´ve cried over the years over some dudes, but let´s be honest here, they weren´t worth crying over. Nick Cole however... yeap, I would cry over him any day now, especially after having read ´The End Of The World As We Knew It´.
On the surface TEOTWAWKI is a post-apocalyptic zombie novel but what it really is is a love story, but not only a love story but one about regrets and hope. Nick Cole masterfully creates, and spins a tale, of loss and redemption, of errors made and chances to rectify them. Which is heart breaking, often painful, but there is an understanding of life that I have seldom encountered within the pages of a book. Not even by some dead Russian master.
Nick Cole really doesn´t need a lot to set up the foundation for the book. A few phrases, a few words only at times and you are in the middle of the world he created in all its brilliance, dark and grim and lost as this world is.
Alex´s voice recordings for example, found in a locker room and later transcribed, are simply marvelous in its urgency and desperation of her own life. Her failures, mistakes, hopes and dreams that may never come to life. It says so much about the person Alex was and is. A whole life time told in a couple of pages.
Just Nick Cole doesn´t *really* tell her tale, he implies and lets the reader read between the lines. And this is where his true genius is. Nick Cole says more with what he does *not* say, because he doesn´t have to, than he actually have to spell out for clarity´s sake; which sometimes is, no doubt about it, needed too. His sentences have the simple intensity of someone who is confident in himself as an author and person. Someone who simply knows what he is doing, and can spare all too vivid and messy details since the mood is set, and one can pick up the broken pieces of a life easy enough after everything went downhill and death came knocking on everyone´s door.
Than there is Jason.
Jason, after the outbreak which killed most of the population, travels by train from the East Coast to the West Coast, to the newly established, sort of, New Californian Republic. The trainride is burdensome and dangerous. From zombie attacks in the wastelands to a military mutiny on the train to learning to kill the not-so-dead his life is one, long search for Alex, his fiancée. Who may or may not have survived in California. As it is, hope always dies last, and survives even zombies.
California, is a more or less safe zone, that is with far less zombies than the rest of the U.S. and there are Reconstruction teams at work. Which isn´t really about reconstructing whole cities but to find out who is who, who survived and who did not, aka a lot of paperwork and entries into databases. At first I was at odds with the idea behind it, but then I understood. A life matters, and it is important for the present generation as much as the future one to piece together, to reconstruct, what happened. For the society as a whole, and for the individual persons.
"And maybe, someone who had not be found, would be."
Jason´s journal entries make up for the most part of the novel. At times they are just short entries, and seem ... meaningless. And that is exactly the point. Dreaded chores, eating a ChiliMac, recalling of what happened at any day, each day as the next. Just survive. And there are way longer entries where Jason describes his current life very meticously, often in a stupor of angst and desperation. Then often times he goes back to the dreadful day when everything collapsed, and the world as we knew it ended.
One question, however, is unheard of. How? How did anyone survive? It´s almost like the most logical question cannot be asked. Too painful, sure, but mostly because the feeling of guilt of having survived is too big to really find the words. The shame behind all when one simply doesn´t know how. Pure chance? Luck? How can someone, anyone really, survive something that kills most of those you know? Your loved ones, your co-workers, or basically everyone one has ever encountered in a life time? It is maybe the most cruelest question of all.
TEOTWAWKI is my very own and personal Redemption Song. The ultimate love letter to love and life itself, a post-apocalyptic romance novel after everything ended that we knew. Societies and lives lost but Nick Cole wouldn´t be Nick Cole if there isn´t hope, redemption and love. Everything that´s worth living - and surviving - for, even an never-to-be-imagined apocalypse.
TEOTWAWKI is for me the best book I´ve read so far in 2015, and became an insta-classic on my (virtual) shelves. I cried many a tears over it, since it pulled all the right strings, punched at all the right places. Brilliant story, brilliant writing. Nothing more, nothing less.
(Full disclosure: I had the opportunity, thanks to the generosity of Nick Cole, to receive a free copy of ´The End Of The World As We Knew It´, pre-publication. My review refers to the book as published.)