by Rumaan Alam
I saw this book well described as “a disaster novel without the disaster.” All that the characters know for sure about the disaster is that power went out on the East Coast. It becomes eerier than that, but I won’t give away any spoilers.
The plot is simple. A Brooklyn family of four rents an Airbnb out near the Hamptons on Long Island. The owners of the house show up one night just a few days into their stay. The owners had been out & about in NYC when, they report, the power went out. (The power remains inexplicably still on out on eastern Long Island.) But it didn’t seem like a normal blackout – plus, their apartment in the city was too many flights up to want to climb with the elevators not working – so they drove out to Long Island to wait things out at their summer home. But things are weird. They feel weird. The Airbnb guests feel weird. And not just the awkwardness of all having to share quarters with strangers; it’s all just… weird.
I found it enthralling and scary. It’s just about how these different people respond to crisis. And the scary part was reading it during this little world crisis of our own – not knowing what chapter we are currently in, out of how many chapters, of THAT crisis.
First stirring quote: “Waist-deep water was lapping against Venetian marble, and tourists were smiling & taking snapshots. It was like some tacit agreement: everyone had ceded to things just falling apart.” Makes me feel like the way most of this country seems to just be shrugging their shoulders at 300,000 dead – crisis came, and we all just acted like such a bunch of surrender-monkeys, we would put France to shame.
Clay & Amanda, the renters, fantasize about what they will do when (they imagine) shortly they will pack up and head on home to Brooklyn… Clay wants to stop in a diner. “Chrome. Jukeboxes. Corned beef hash.” Amanda wants to go to an old-fashioned sit-down Chinese restaurant. “The only things a person ever wanted were food and home.” Preach!
“Lemmings were not suicidal; they were driven to migrate and overconfident about their ability. The leader of the pack was not to blame. They all plunged into the sea, thinking it easy to traverse as a puddle; so human an instinct in a bunch of rodents.”
The narrator is omniscient. The perspective of each character in turn is assumed. The narrator also knows exactly what is going on, but is coy about sharing it. You may be more clear than I about exactly what happened and is going to happen, but I felt I might have blinked and missed a thing or two.
Note: I own this in hardcover and am willing to lend. ( )
Did you stay home today? 100%
What local business or charity did you support? Gotta think on that
What’s for dinner? Chicken tortellini in sauce