by Penny Reeder
My pandemic reading choices have seemed fairly consistent with the kind of person and reader I think I am. If there’s some kind of political or environmental disaster going on (and when isn’t there?), I’m likely to be reading “Night of Camp David” or “A Very Stable Genius.” As quarantine became real and daily statistics describing sickness and death have ramped upward, I read “Station Eleven,” abandoned “The Stand” in the middle when it became too violent even for me, switched to the non-fiction of “The Great Influenza” when reading “The Atlantic” left me wanting to know more and more and more. Why? So I can be prepared? So I might know what in the world I can do to protect the people I love? Or maybe I’m just a masochist.
The final speculation may, in fact, be the explanation that describes me best, as I have spent the last two nights reading — and finishing at 3:00 this morning — “The End of October.” If you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic novels, even when we are actually living inside one, if you – like I – devoured “Dr. Strangelove” and On the Beach” when you were in high school, and you’ve never forgotten a single detail in either – “The End of October” is for you. As for me, it may be my last post-apocalyptic novel, because I may never recover from the cloud of dread in which I am now enveloped. Or, maybe there won’t be any more apocalypses to be post of.
In any event, if you are crazy like me and you somehow derive enjoyment from knowing – or speculating – as much as you can about what lengths you might go to to spare the people you love, and as much of humanity as might be possible, or just to spare yourself and keep on living, this is the novel for you! Lawrence Wright is an absolutely brilliant writer – and researcher – and like all of the other reviewers, I am simply blown away by how much of our current pandemic experience he conjures. The novel is a mash-up of many other post-apocalyptic novels that dwell on sickness and death sweeping over the world and destroying many – actually most – lives, leaving the few survivors to find one another and attempt to create a new, more humane world community – and post-nuclear scenarios, like “On the Beach.” I couldn’t put it down. I am unlikely to pick it up again, because all of the details are so easily found in headlines in this week’s “Washington Post” and “The New York Times.” I am very likely to recommend it to you.