This is how I've been spending my free time, mostly. Tom's socks, a mugful of green grapes and a book. Partly because it's January and what else do you do in January? and partly because the Whole30 is a slightly isolating endeavor. There's a lot of time spent feeling up avocados in the produce aisle of Wegman's and not a lot of time spent over a bottle of red wine at the Bistro bar. So, yes, this month my world has been surreptitiously usurped by worlds not my own, created by strangers to be read by the likes of me, be-sweatpanted thirty-somethings. And I'm not mad at it.
I've just finished Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel; I only 10 minutes ago offered to it my ritualistic last rites after finishing a book - a reverential last look of the cover art, running my hand over the plastic library jacket and one last reading of the inside flap synopsis. Hey, what are your reading rituals? I know you got em, just like I know you got The Last Oreo traditions. For instance, some people always read the last page first and isn't THAT the most dangerous kind of book reading ritual you can think of?
Leaving a book can be an unsettling experience, like when your internal clock goes haywire and casts you out of bed at 4:23a.m. with the absolute knowledge that you've missed your bus to school. Except it's a Saturday and you're 28 years old so you don't take a bus to school anymore which thank god because wasn't that always the worst? I'm usually in a mood after I finish a book - it takes time to re acclimate back into real life, though the mood is of course dependent on the tone of the book, obviously, and, well...
The Station Eleven world is a dystopian hellscape set in both Canada and the United States, somewhere in the not-to-distant future after a pandemic sweeps across the globe, wiping out 99% of the population. You follow a small handful of survivors in the 20 years that follow "the collapse" interspersed with memories of their lives before, leading up to and during the outbreak.
In other words, my worst nightmare.
During my adolescence, due to an unfortunate viewing or five of Rescue 911 (that show still freaks me out), my worst nightmare was someone breaking into my house. I remember I'd sit on my bed, bending my blinds so I could peer out onto the empty street juuussttt to make sure, I guess, there wasn't a dude standing on the sidewalk getting his breaking-in tools ready? I'm not sure what my plan was there.
Anyway, I (sort of?)(not really, just ask anyone) grew out of that and for a few blissful years during my early twenties, I was worst nightmare free. I worried about running into an ex-boyfriend (ok, that IS terrifying, come on) but ya know, my neurosis were on lock. I'd say though...probably around 26 or 27, I became paralyzingly afraid of death. Not of dying, but of being dead. I would wake up at 3 in the morning, unable to go back to sleep while the enormity of no longer being me and of being unconscious for eternity forever and ever while the world continued to spin and I was gone never to return loomed over my head. IF it's not clear to you, that was a dark period. There's an entire section of our bookshelf dedicated to my late night Amazon binges during this era. Titles include "Ending Aging," "How to Live Long Enough to Live Forever," "The Only Dance There Is," "The Discovery of Being" and "The Active Side of Infinity." If you find yourself in the midst of an existential crisis, please don't hesitate to call for a loaner. The good parts are already highlighted.
While there is still a part of me that lives on, Chris Traeger style, I've somehow overcome the crippling terror of infinite nothingness (as one does) and instead, in the past couple of years, put my focus on cataclysmic end-of-the-world scenarios like the one set out in Station Eleven and I have the Potassium Iodine pills in our medicine cabinet to prove it. I'm not saying it's a particularly comforting way to live, but I AM saying it is a sometimes exhausting way to live. It's like, first I was afraid of being dead and now I'm afraid of being alive. It's simple, really. Keep up.
Mandel does a horrifyingly good apocalypse. Her writing is haunting and - at all the right times - sparsely stilting. She intersperses long, elegant Shakespearian reveries with clipped, sentence-long paragraphs describing how each major cable network went dark in the days following the collapse. It leaves you feeling a bit out of breath (mostly I think because you probably HAVE been holding your breath) and weary. Which, duh, exactly! is how all the characters are feeling. It's an emotional, poignant and ultimately hopeful story of connected strangers in a chaotic world. You leave unsettled, yes, but also with a renewed immense, sink-to-your-knees kind of gratitude for the world we live in, no matter its (many)(awful) flaws.
And anyway, Station Eleven is labeled as Sci-Fi which I find soothing. Sci-fi is SCIENCE FICTION SO IT CAN'T BE REAL, RIGHT?
#tgif ? #yolo ?