Station eleven A novel

Emily St. John Mandel, 1979-

Large print - 2014

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Subjects
Genres
Science fiction
Published
Waterville, Maine : Thorndike Press 2014.
Language
English
Main Author
Emily St. John Mandel, 1979- (-)
Edition
Large print edition
Physical Description
557 pages
ISBN
9781410474179
Contents unavailable.
Review by New York Times Review

EMILY ST. JOHN MANDEL'S fourth novel, "Station Eleven," begins with a spectacular end. One night, in a Toronto theater, onstage performing the role of King Lear, 51-year-old Arthur Leander has a fatal heart attack. There is barely time for people to absorb this shock when tragedy on a considerably vaster scale arrives in the form of a flu pandemic so lethal that, within weeks, most of the world's population has been killed. Among the people on the scene the night of Arthur's death is Kirsten Raymonde, an 8-year-old actress playing a tiny nonspeaking role as one of Lear's daughters as a child. (From the author's acknowledgments, we learn that this addition to Shakespeare's play is taken from an actual production of "Lear" staged by James Lapine in 2007 at the Public Theater.) When we meet Kirsten again, 20 years have passed and there is no more Toronto. There is no Canada, no United States. All countries and borders have vanished. There remain only scattered small towns. Kirsten is now part of something called the Traveling Symphony: 20 or so musicians and actors in horse-drawn wagons who roam from town to town in an area around the shores of Lakes Huron and Michigan. At each stop the Symphony entertains the public with concerts and theatrical performances - mostly Shakespeare because, as the troupe has learned, this is what audiences prefer. "People want what was best about the world," explains one musician. The Symphony has a motto, taken from an episode of "Star Trek: Voyager," "Survival is insufficient," and it is this unpoetical line - rather than, as one might expect, a quotation from Shakespeare - that Kirsten calls "my favorite line of text in the world." Since the age of 15, she has worn it tattooed on her left forearm. Though her memory of her own mother's face - and of the days when such things as electricity, gas, running water, pharmaceuticals and the Internet existed - has grown vague, Kirsten has always remembered, to the point of obsession, Arthur Leander. In his prime he had been a Hollywood star, and over the years Kirsten has made a habit of searching any printed matter she happens across for articles about him - mostly celebrity gossip - which she clips and carries about with her in a zip-lock bag. Also in the bag are two much read issues of a comic-book series featuring a character called Dr. Eleven, a physicist who lives on a space station after escaping an alien takeover of Earth. Twenty years have not dimmed Kirsten's passion for the comics, or her curiosity about their creator, identified only by the initials M.C. From flashbacks interspersed throughout the novel, we learn about Arthur's life - mostly the ups and downs of his acting career and of his three marriages, in particular his first, to an art school graduate named Miranda. It is she who created the Dr. Eleven comics, working on them as a hobby over many years during which she achieved professional success as an executive for a shipping company. She once made a present of the first two issues to Arthur, who in turn gave them to little Kirsten. Detailed descriptions of Miranda's comic-book project, also interspersed throughout, reveal (perhaps a bit too pointedly, for this reader) several parallels between her science fiction stories and events in the novel itself. The Symphony arrives in a town called St. Deborah by the Water, hoping to reunite with two members of their troupe who had stayed behind after a visit two years earlier because they were expecting a child. But neither the couple nor their child is to be found, and the Symphony is alarmed to discover that the town has come under the control of a religious fanatic known as "the prophet." Determined to track down their missing friends, the caravan moves on, their destination a former major airport that is now home to more than 300 people and something called the Museum of Civilization, where such old-world artifacts as cellphones, laptops, credit cards and a pair of red stiletto heels are on view. But their encounter with the prophet has put Kirsten and her fellow troupers in serious danger. Their journey is threatened by a succession of misadventures, and a showdown with their enemy becomes inevitable. Mandel is an able and exuberant storyteller, and many readers will be won over by her nimble interweaving of her characters' lives and fates. Two other survivors whose stories are deftly tied in are Arthur's closest male friend, who manages to find purpose in his role as an elder resident of the airport settlement, and a paramedic, first seen performing CPR on the actor on the night of his death, who yearns to make amends for a previous career as a cheap paparazzo (whose prey happened to include Arthur and Miranda). "Station Eleven" is as much a mystery as it is a post-apocalyptic tale, and Mandel is especially good at planting clues and raising the kind of plot-thickening questions that keep the reader turning pages. Why does the prophet own a dog with the same name as a dog owned by Dr. Eleven? What is the meaning of the two black knives tattooed on Kirsten's wrist? Who is this "V." to whom Arthur has written a slew of letters over the years? If Mandel has to rely heavily on coincidence to bring certain parts off, she does so with satisfying panache. WHERE THE BOOK falters, I think, is in its imagination of disaster. Having accepted the science that says a flu pandemic is highly probable in our future, Mandel chooses a worst possible situation, a plague that results in the immediate and total collapse of civilization. But the survivors do not think, act or speak like people struck by such a cataclysm. For the most part, they do not behave very differently from people living in ordinary, civilized times. Hunger, thirst and exhaustion are alluded to, but there is no penetrating sense of the day-to-day struggle of vulnerable human beings lacking the basic amenities of life. Also, although we are presented with a significant villain in the figure of the prophet, readers may wonder why few bad guys appear to have made it to Year 20. We are living in a time that has been extraordinary for outbreaks of violence and chaos all over the world, when news of carnage in places like Ukraine, Nigeria and the Middle East, and of the horrendous conditions that have turned tens of thousands of Central American children into desperate migrants, has been over-whelming. Reading Mandel's novel, I did not feel as if I was in the presence of that kind of suffering. The hairs never rose on the back of my neck; my eyes never filled with tears. Survival may indeed be insufficient, but does it follow that our love of art can save us? If "Station Eleven" reveals little insight into the effects of extreme terror and misery on humanity, it offers comfort and hope to those who believe, or want to believe, that doomsday can be survived, that in spite of everything people will remain good at heart, and that when they start building a new world they will want what was best about the old. All countries and borders have vanished. There remain only scattered small towns. SIGRID NUNEZ'S most recent book, "Sempre Susan: A Memoir of Susan Sontag," will be released in paperback in October.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [September 14, 2014]
Review by Library Journal Review

Starred Review. With an all too realistic and timely premise, Mandel's (The Lola Quartet) newest tells the story of the survivors of a worldwide pandemic that kills 99.9 percent of the population. Jumping around in time, from well before the pandemic to 20 years after, this elegant tale will linger with the listener. The main characters are all somehow connected to renowned actor Arthur Leander, who dies onstage while performing King Lear at the opening of the book. The individual stories of violence and hope flow together and create a memorable tale that is greater than the individual parts. It's a rare thing a tale about the end of civilization that leaves the reader in a positive, hopeful mood. Kristen Potter demonstrates her talent in voicing the wide range of characters, ages, and accents. VERDICT Recommended for fans of literary dystopian novels. ["This is a brilliantly constructed, highly literary, postapocalyptic page-turner and should be a breakout novel for Mandel," raved the starred review of the Knopf hc, LJ 9/1/14.] Donna Bachowski, Orange Cty. Lib. Syst., Orlando, FL (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Jeevan's understanding of disaster preparedness was based entirely on action movies, but on the other hand, he'd seen a lot of action movies. He started with water, filled one of the oversized shopping carts with as many cases and bottles as he could fit. There was a moment of doubt on the way to the cash registers, straining against the weight of the cart--was he overreacting?--but there was a certain momentum now, too late to turn back. The clerk raised an eyebrow but said nothing. "I'm parked just outside," he said. "I'll bring the cart back." The clerk nodded, tired. She was young, early twenties probably, with dark bangs that she kept pushing out of her eyes. He forced the impossibly heavy cart outside and half-pushed, half-skidded through the snow at the exit. There was a long ramp down into a small park-like arrangement of benches and planters. The cart gained speed on the incline, bogged down in deep snow at the bottom of the ramp and slid sideways into a planter. It was eleven twenty. The supermarket closed in forty minutes. He was imagining how long it would take to bring the cart up to Frank's apartment, to unload it, the time required for tedious explanations and reassurances of sanity before he could return to the grocery store for more supplies. Could there be any harm in leaving the cart here for the moment? There was no one on the street. He called Hua on his way back into the store. "What's happening now?" He moved quickly through the store while Hua spoke. Another case of water--Jeevan was under the impression that one can never have too much--and then cans and cans of food, all the tuna and beans and soup on the shelf, pasta, anything that looked like it might last a while. The hospital was full of flu patients and the situation was identical at the other hospitals in the city. The ambulance service was overwhelmed. Thirty-seven patients had died now, including every patient who'd been on the Moscow flight and two E.R. nurses who'd been on duty when the first patients came in. The shopping cart was almost unmanageably heavy. Hua said he'd called his wife and told her to take the kids and leave the city tonight, but not by airplane. Jeevan was standing by the cash register again, the clerk scanning his cans and packages. The part of the evening that had transpired in the Elgin Theatre seemed like possibly a different lifetime. The clerk was moving very slowly. Jeevan passed her a credit card and she scrutinized it as though she hadn't just seen it five or ten minutes ago. "Take Laura and your brother," Hua said, "and leave the city tonight." "I can't leave the city tonight, not with my brother. I can't rent a wheelchair van at this hour." In response there was only a muffled sound. Hua was coughing. "Are you sick?" Jeevan was pushing the cart toward the door. "Goodnight, Jeevan." Hua disconnected and Jeevan was alone in the snow. He felt possessed. The next cart was all toilet paper. The cart after that was more canned goods, also frozen meat and aspirin, garbage bags, bleach, duct tape. "I work for a charity," he said to the girl behind the cash register, his third or fourth time through, but she wasn't paying much attention to him. She kept glancing up at the small television above the film development counter, ringing his items through on autopilot. Jeevan called Laura on his sixth trip through the store, but his call went to voicemail. "Laura," he began. "Laura." He thought it better to speak to her directly and it was already almost eleven fifty, there wasn't time for this. Filling the cart with more food, moving quickly through this bread-and-flower-scented world, this almost-gone place, thinking of Frank in his 22nd floor apartment, high up in the snowstorm with his insomnia and his book project, his day-old New York Times and his Beethoven. Jeevan wanted desperately to reach him. He decided to call Laura later, changed his mind and called the home line while he was standing by the checkout counter, mostly because he didn't want to make eye contact with the clerk. "Jeevan, where are you?" She sounded slightly accusatory. He handed over his credit card. "Are you watching the news?" "Should I be?" "There's a flu epidemic, Laura. It's serious." "That thing in Russia or wherever? I knew about that." "It's here now. It's worse than we'd thought. I've just been talking to Hua. You have to leave the city." He glanced up in time to see the look the checkout girl gave him. " Have to? What? Where are you, Jeevan?" He was signing his name on the slip, struggling with the cart toward the exit, where the order of the store ended and the frenzy of the storm began. It was difficult to steer the cart with one hand. There were already five carts parked haphazardly between benches and planters, dusted now with snow. "Just turn on the news, Laura." "You know I don't like to watch the news before bed. Are you having an anxiety attack?" "What? No. I'm going to my brother's place to make sure he's okay." "Why wouldn't he be?" "You're not even listening. You never listen to me." Jeevan knew this was probably a petty thing to say in the face of a probable flu pandemic, but couldn't resist. He plowed the cart into the others and dashed back into the store. "I can't believe you left me at the theatre," he said. "You just left me at the theatre performing CPR on a dead actor." "Jeevan, tell me where you are." "I'm in a grocery store." It was eleven fifty-five. This last cart was all grace items: vegetables, fruit, bags of oranges and lemons, tea, coffee, crackers, salt, preserved cakes. "Look, Laura, I don't want to argue. This flu's serious, and it's fast." "What's fast?" "This flu, Laura. It's really fast. Hua told me. It's spreading so quickly. I think you should get out of the city." At the last moment, he added a bouquet of daffodils. Excerpted from Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.