Lately I find myself recommending, with a caveat, an amazing and surprisingly hopeful post-apocalyptic novel. The caveat is that I don’t usually enjoy post-apocalyptic stories or seek them. Maybe you feel the same, but Station Eleven is so much more than your average PA story. It begins in a theater in Toronto during a performance of King Lear. The lead actor, Arthur, has a fatal heart attack mid-performance. Recognizing what is happening, an audience member and EMT, Jeevan leaps onto the stage to try to resuscitate the actor. Eight-year old Kirsten, unconventionally cast in the play, is a witness to the drama behind the prematurely closed curtain, and she is the only cast member who will survive the following few weeks. As Jeevan steps into the night, he receives a call from his close friend, a doctor, who tells him to leave the city ASAP. Two planes from Russia have landed with all passengers infected with a new, highly contagious strain of the flu. Thirty-two of them have died in the first hour and hospital workers are showing symptoms.
Most of the action takes place twenty years after the pandemic, and much of it focuses on a traveling theater troupe, the Symphony that performs Shakespeare plays and classical music in the outposts of survivors along the shores of Michigan and Ohio. The relationships of the characters and the discovery of how their lives intersect with Arthur’s provide the heart of the story. The values that sustain and the venom that surfaces in the post pandemic world present the best and worst of humanity. The preservation of culture and art is essential and affirming, “Because survival is insufficient.”
You may recognize the quote from one of the Star Trek spinoffs (Voyager) all of which stayed true to Gene Rodenberry’s optimistic view of the future of humanity. I think optimism is what I need in my post apocalypse which is why the teen Books of Ember Series were also favorites and why I was surprised to find that I loved the movie Zombieland. For contrast, read the exeptionally written downer, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Frank Herbert’s Dune, the classic On the Beach by Neville Shute, or Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles. And for some amazing post apocalyptic with a twist novels for people who don’t usually read post apocalyptic novels, read Jason Motts’ The Returned or Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers.
See you in the post apocalypse!