Monday, September 2, 2019

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Book club book #7

This is not what you normally get from a post-apocalyptic book. With less focus on the panic which would naturally occur if a flu epidemic killed off almost all of humanity, Station Eleven is about survival and hope. Zeroing in on one string of interconnected people and the need for art to remain in the world, when almost all else is lost, this book follows a travelling caravan 20 years later. Their purpose is to bring symphonic masterpieces and Shakespearean plays to the remaining clusters of civilization along the northern US/Canada border.

Everyday comforts are gone. People no longer live in traditional homes, they group together in fast-food restaurants, gas stations, airports. Some have chosen to forget the past, let what they've lost go, while others consider it a time to honor and remember.

A loose connection between main characters is established through the life of Arthur Leander, a Hollywood actor. The unique experiences of these connected characters before, during, and after the apocalypse form an interesting narrative of the many directions life can go upon surviving this worse-case scenario. Sadly, Arthur dies the night the flu begins its horrible spread, so we only get to know him through flashbacks. He leaves behind Clark, his best friend, a few ex-wives, a son, Jeevan, the man who tries to save him, and Kirsten, a little girl sharing the stage with Arthur in a production of King Lear. Arthur dies in front of her, on stage, during the show. Each character is touched in some way by Arthur as well as the two copies of two issues of the comic series, Station Eleven, created by his first wife. None of these survivors live out the same life, but they end up intersecting within the story, though not always knowing they're connected.

Using the past to show the reader why these characters belong in the same story, along with the remnants of an old life they continue to hold onto, the story illustrates how one person's life can impact a series of choices made by others, driving their futures. It's a story that rewards the hopeful. People that don't give up and don't try to manipulate the system, but rather live in it to the best of their ability. It rewards kindness and true community -- survival in a way that supports others and invites moments of joy into a vastly altered life. It doesn't deny the existence of hardship, but refuses to allow humanity to get bogged down in the bad.

What survives after the world as we know it ends? What's going to make it above all else? Hope. We can all hope, through this story, that it's hope.

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