“The Susquehanna was a ribbon of darkness unfurling itself across the Pennsylvania landscape, the hills, the first ripples of mountains, all bleached by the moon.”
– Lost Everything by Brian Francis Slattery
Slattery’s vision of the Northeastern United States is radically different from today. Drastic climate change has put cities and towns under water and dispossessed millions. Hunger and desperation and fear have killed countless innocents and have sparked a senseless war that is slowly spreading northward. It's environmental Armageddon coupled with societal collapse – the defecation has definitely hit the rotating oscillator for humankind.
And that’s the point. This novel, for me at least, was more about the causes behind the end of the world than the actual end of the world itself.
• “It was about how much we had done to the planet, and the way the planet, at last, had turned its great eye to us in anger. You have done enough.”
• “Do you see? How the world is now? Nobody can say quite how it came to be this way. There is too much. There is not enough. It started generations ago, and so much has been lost, and even all that I found does not help. You wake up and the country is on fire, as far as you can see. How do you find the match that started it?”
• “In West Virginia, we had leveled a green range of peaks into a gray waste, spotted with the rusting yellow metal of abandoned machinery. In Pennsylvania and New York, we had drilled for gas until the rock broke and the water went bad, and the towns that used to drink it died. We burned and we burned, until there was more smoke than fuel, and then things started to come apart…”
But the thing that made this such a wonderfully satisfying reading experience was Slattery’s lyrical writing style. Reading Lost Everything was like reading dark poetry for the end of the world. Every page, it seemed, included one or more extraordinary images, be it beautiful or brutal. Here are just a few examples of what I’m talking about:
• “She was a glass jar dropped from a great height…”
• “Horses on fire, screaming, their manes trailing stripes of smoke…”
• “This earth, this sky, will come for us, she said, it’ll get tired of us and come. And what comes after will be beautiful, even if we’re not allowed to see it.”
• “The rip in the sky was wider, longer. It lay open above their heads, plunged behind the trees. She knew it reached the horizon. Touched the earth. She could hear it, a rushing whisper, almost make out the words…”
Like Sunny Jim’s serpentine journey up the Susquehanna, Lost Everything isn’t so much about the destination; it’s about the experience of getting there and the wisdom gained. This one is highly recommended for apocalyptic fiction fans who enjoy their reading fare dark and deep – just as powerfully moving as The Road.
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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