Here’s how it works. An alarming new flu virus crops up half way across the planet in the Republic of Georgia with a frighteningly short incubation period. Within hours of exposure you will be sick. Within a day or two you will be dead. It is traveling fast – very fast - and it is headed in your direction. Within weeks the civilization you know will have evaporated and if you have somehow survived, you will question whether you were one of the lucky ones.
I’ve not been drawn to doomsday literature nor dystopian-themed books or movies. Although I know many are considered to be nothing short of masterpieces (1984, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World to name a few - none of which I have read), my exposure to that genre has been limited, nearly non-existent. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel may be my breakthrough book. Mine eyes are open.
Although the writing is good it is the story itself that kept me reading far too late into the early morning hours and against my better judgment. It was what I thought about as I turned the key in the ignition of my car or casually turned on the lights, never before surprised or awed that they would work. I stood in the produce section of the supermarket and stared at the beautiful colors, the freshness, the amazing array of choices. So many things at our fingertips, just for the asking. Just for the buying, because we know currency will work and credit cards still exist. You pick up a pepper, judge it against all the other peppers and put the best one in your cart. And then you go home and hit the remote for the garage door opener. You put the groceries in the refrigerator. You fire up the grill. You call someone - your mother, your sister, your child, your friend on the telephone. Probably your cell phone. You laugh together and close with “Love you,” or “Talk to you later.” And you open a bottle of wine. You watch a movie. You read a book. When you go to work, there will be people there. Alive. You are never alone if you do not wish to be. It is life as you know it every day and you don’t dwell upon it much, if at all, or upon whether there will be a “later.”
What if it all vanished in a fortnight? It is the “what ifs” that make this book so compelling. Is a deadly pandemic so out of the question even in this age of modern medicine, science and technology? What if one was so fleet and so lethal that there was no time to devise ways to fight it; or those who may have been successful in doing so have perished in its rising wake? Just think about it: “No more porch lights with moths fluttering on summer nights. No more trains running under the surface of cities on the dazzling power of the electric third rail. No more cities…No more flight. No more towns glimpsed from the sky through airplane windows, points of glimmering light…No more pharmaceuticals. No more certainty of surviving a scratch on one’s hand, a cut on a finger while chopping vegetables for dinner, a dog bite…No more fire departments, no more police. No more road maintenance or garbage pickup…No more internet. No more social media, no more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches, cries for help and expressions of contentment…No more reading and commenting on the lives of others and in so doing, feeling slightly less alone in the room. No more avatars.”
Dystopia. Not a good place. It’s the opposite of Utopia, which is where I’d rather live. But, in terms of a gripping book, it’s just not as much fun. After one writes about the sun shining, the birds singing, and people living in peace and harmony on a healthy planet where everyone is well fed and highly educated, there isn’t much more to do than sit around and eat grape clusters listening to poetry recitations.
Station Eleven, for all its bleak foreboding, ends on a sweet ray of hope. If nothing else, it may provoke you to ponder what you might otherwise take for granted…or compel you to pick up the phone and make that call, as you meant to do but never found the time.