NB: this book is best enjoyed with a Brooklyn Farmacy sundae
Five years ago, during my senior year of high school, I noticed a ton of the Middle School (sixth through eighth grade) students were touting a copy of a book called The Hunger Games. Though most self-respecting eighteen year olds don’t blindly purchase books based on the visual recommendation of those four years younger than them, I was enticed by the title, and decided to purchase the book. Though I felt a bit deceived by how miniscule of a role food played in the book (pro tip: for a read that’s actually about food, you can’t beat Food: A Love Story, by Jim Gaffigan), I found myself captivated by the plot. This surprised me for many reasons—I hated The Giver when I had to read it in sixth grade; it scared me to the point that tears were shed (yikes) and I filed dystopian novels under not for me. I’m not quite sure what it was about The Hunger Games that drew me in, but I finished both the first and second book within a day while anxiously anticipating the release of the third. Instead of using the dystopian landscape as the focal point of the book, Collins employs it as a bleak canvas on which to project romance, action, and even a bit of humor. With the Divergent, another series I devoured, Veronica Roth did the same. So when I found out that a book actually intended for adults (an adult reading adult books—a ~novel~ concept, am I right) was shortlisted for the National Book Award, I jumped at the chance to purchase it.
Station Eleven is a bit more Giver than it is Hunger Games, but I am proud to say that I conquered this one without shedding a single tear of fear. I read it this fall, enjoyed it, and forgot about it until my little brother’s boarding school made it required reading for all incoming students. Inspired, I revisited the book and was reminded how I really felt about it—I couldn’t put it down for the first 90 pages, and then I kind of wanted it to be either over or more like the beginning again.
The book opens with an aging but prolific stage actor dying in the midst of a performance of King Lear, which begins the rapid spread of the “Georgia Flu” in Toronto. The beginning scenes move between the child actress who worked with him on the play and witnessed his death and a paparazzi who had been lingering outside the theater, hoping to snag a shot of the actor. His brother soon becomes afflicted, and the disease [thought to have been spread on a flight that landed in Toronto] wipes out 12% (or something) of the population. This book differs from those mentioned above in that the post-apocalyptic landscape actually does serve as the focal point—planes no longer fly, cars don’t drive, society has regressed entirely, and people living in abandoned airports that contain artifacts from the world as it was once was, which they call ‘Museums of Civilization’.
Flash forward ten years from the book’s opening scene and the child actress, Kristen, is all grown up, part of a Shakespeare-themed traveling theater troupe. If you know me at all, you’ll know that books that heavily feature the “theatre,” as they call it, are not generally attractive to me, but it’s worth noting that, despite the fact that the bulk of the book takes place on the road with the troupe, it is light on theater talk and heavy on the drama, gossip and intrigue that takes place when the curtain falls.
The book begins to peter out a bit in the middle—there’s only so much traveling, entering towns and encountering strange characters and narrowly escaping danger a book can feature before it ventures into repetitive territory. Despite this, there were a few fun twists and connections towards the end that made soldiering on through the boring parts worth it. Great for reading during a long commute, but, after initial promise at the outset of the novel, not exciting enough to consume in a single sitting.
*Special shoutout to my brother, Charlie, who reminded me that I had read this book during the fall and should review it for my website. Thanks Charlie!