I don’t exactly know how to describe my taste in fiction. I can tell you what I’m not a huge fan of, and that is typical ‘chick lit.’ I’m not real interested in romance fiction, though I do like a good fairy-tale now and then. For me, I like a sense of intrigue or interesting mystery or the sense of peeling away layers of understanding in the stories I read. I like multi-faceted, well-developed characters and stories where you find that things aren’t always what they seem at first glance. For me, the fun of reading a story is the journey of discovering where the story is going, especially as the layers peel and you go deeper into why people are doing what they do. I like mysteries and detective fiction and courtroom dramas, things that keep you guessing along the way. I like stories that draw you in and make you care about the characters and that have tightly woven plot lines that make you look back and realize that seemingly insignificant details were actually quite skillfully chosen and placed by the author who, like a chess master, has carefully thought out all the details and plotted his or her story.
All of this is one reason I am afraid to get serious about the writing I very much want to do. I want to write something good and well-plotted and well-crafted, but when I sit down to brainstorm, I realize I’m not at all sure I have what it takes to write the kind of thing that a reader like me would want to read.
Anyway, I was perusing a book order my middle school son brought home and finally, finally, he’s at the reading level where there are books in the book orders that I think are actually interesting. I was wondering what it says about me, though, that most of the books whose summaries made me take notice and want to read were categorized as ‘dystopian.’ I paged past the ‘paranormal romance’ with an upturned nose and bemusement at the sheer numbers of selections, but several of the ‘dystopian’ books caught my attention. I had to look up ‘dystopian’ to see what it meant. I kind of assumed that it was the opposite of ‘utopian,’ and basically I was right.
So, why do I like these settings rather than fluffy love and romance stuff? I haven’t completely figured that one out yet, but I suspect it’s because they tend to offer a more realistic view of human nature with its ups and downs and intricacies and foibles, in my opinion.
So, I say all that to mention that I just finished reading a book called, The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch. As I was reading, especially in the beginning, it reminded me very much of The Road by Cormac McCarthy, except with more hope. The Road was, quite possibly, the most depressing book I’ve ever read in my life, and I still find myself processing it to this day though it’s been over a year since I read it. I’m not going to write a true review of The Eleventh Plague because I have realized that isn’t my gift. When I was looking up The Road so I could remind myself of the author’s name for this post I stumbled across an article someone had written that explored some of the themes, and I read it and said, “Ah. So that’s what it was about.” I missed the point apparently. Which is why I find myself still processing it. I got hung up on the starkness and grossness and missed the deeper meanings, though as I read that article I do remember thinking along similar lines as the article’s author about the spiritual meanings of the book. But what stuck with me was one very graphic and disturbing scene, so over time that’s all I really remember when I think about that book, that and the tiny little glimmer of hope that was held out at the end. Even in its starkness, there was just a tiny little grain of hope left. And now I’ve gone way off my topic on a tangent. Which is why I don’t write real reviews.
Back to The Eleventh Plague. I liked this book. It’s a little scary to think just how close to barbarianism our civilized culture could actually be. It wouldn’t take much to knock us off the grid, and most of us, myself included, would not know how to live without the superstructure our electricity and civilized and interconnected society give us. Groups like the Amish could possibly go on as if nothing had changed, but the rest of us are completely dependent on our modern conveniences. Think about how lost you feel when the power goes out for an hour or two. Then imagine a world where a devastating war complete with a deadly biological weapon of mass destruction has killed 2/3 of America and where not enough people survived to keep the hospitals open or the power on and the cities are abandoned buildings crumbling to dust. That’s the world 15-year-old Stephen Quinn was born into in The Eleventh Plague.
Without giving too many spoilers, after much personal tragedy and difficulty Stephen comes across a community known as Settler’s Landing, that, as the back of the book says, seems too good to be true. What happens there is the bulk of the story.
What I like is the exploration of human interactions and relationships and how easy it is for us to become barbarians when you take away any kind of governmental or societal structure. Anarchy is a frightening thing. It is scary and fascinating to think about the sheer immensity of the task of surviving, not to mention rebuilding after such a massive tragedy. When I read things like this, I can’t help but think of Revelation where instead of turning to God, people still defy Him and shake their fists at Him.
One thing that disturbed me as I read was that the one character who publicly prayed and quoted the Bible was not a ‘good’ character. His quoting of the Bible was done to shore up his own selfish ends and to keep people out and be insular rather than reach out to help people in need with the resources he had. He saw needy outsiders and other settlers as a threat, while others in the community would extend kindness and sympathy and saw them as potential allies.
Where that sent my thinking was, “Is that really how the world sees Christians?” When the onlooking world thinks of Bible-believing Christians, are we so self-focused that they see us as looking out for our own best-interests and not caring what happens to anyone else, or worse maybe that we have a bunker mentality that would shut out anyone who isn’t ‘one of us’? Then I look around at our mega church subculture with our self-contained bubble mentality that caters to ‘felt needs’ but doesn’t always get to the heart of the gospel and move our understanding of the gospel from being sort of the ticket into the club rather than understanding it for the life-changing, desperately needed answer to our deepest need to be rescued from the chains of sin, and I realize why we might be seen that way.
That wasn’t the point of the book. It wasn’t written by a Christian author, as far as I know, but I found it interesting, anyway. Interesting in the sense that I don’t want to live in such a way that my unsaved neighbors could think I don’t care about them. Interesting in the sense that I want to live in a way that points my friends and neighbors to the light of the gospel.
Interesting book, one that got me thinking, and not necessarily along the lines the author intended, but that still made it a good read this week. Obviously there were lots more directions my thinking went as I read and am processing the book, but that’s all I’ll hit on here. This post is long enough.