The majority of post-apocalyptic fiction over the decades has characterized women as helpless, hopeless liabilities. Victims in high heels or objects to be coveted because of their ability to further the species. But – thankfully – the times, they are a-changin’. Littlefield’s iconic protagonist, Cass Dollar, is indeed a woman of the 21st century. She is a fighter, a survivor. She’s smart, courageous, and determined. She is a mother, a lover, an unlikely hero at the end of the world.
Cass Dollar is a heroic character indeed but Littlefield took the idea of the self-empowered female at world’s end even further: the entire trilogy is replete with tough and tenacious female characters: like Sammi, a 14-year old girl who has lost her father to divorce and has seen her mother killed in front of her.
The message here? Women are just as strong and smart and courageous as any man. Sexual gender has absolutely nothing to do with one’s ability – or will – to survive.
But it’s so much more than female empowerment – while Littlefield has penned this sprawling, epic, end-of-the-world storyline, the ultimate message, I think, is universal and surprisingly intimate. It’s about self-forgiveness. So many of the characters in this trilogy are filled with self-hate and guilt for the mistakes that they’ve made in the past, that they’re missing out on the fleeting beauty and potential for love all around them – even if it is at world’s end! One sequence in particular struck me:
“Cass drank in the sun and dug her fingers into the earth and breathed the good air and allowed herself to wonder if maybe she was more than the sum of her addiction and her sobriety, more than just Ruthie’s mother, if maybe she’d done her penance and suffered enough and deserved something only for herself. Even with the scars and the regrets, some of her spirit remained, and some of it was good, and some of it was worthy…”
“She did not yet know the limits of her strength, but she was ready to be tested, and tested again. She would be tempted and discouraged and broken, but she would come back each time, into this world that had been bequeathed to them, into the dangers that threatened them and the joys that waited, buried but not impossible, for them to unearth and cherish.”
Bottom line: The Aftertime trilogy is Littlefield’s magnum opus – just a timeless, towering work of apocalyptic fiction. And although this saga is a “must read” for fans of apocalyptic fiction and zombie fiction, I believe it transcends genre fiction and would appeal to anyone who reads fiction. This trio of novels gets my highest possible level of recommendation.
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.
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