I’ve been reading a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction lately. A LOT. So much so that I wrote an article called “Name that Apocalypse.” So elements of the plots are starting to sound sort of familiar.
The Last One by Alexandra Oliva (to be released July 12*) has a bit of a twist. The main character is a young woman named Sam. Or Zoo. Or Mae. Yeah, there are a lot of characters in this book and they all seem to go by multiple names. Sam is a contestant in a reality show competition which is sort of a cross between Survivor and The Amazing Race. They’ve been warned that it could get pretty intense and that they will find themselves alone for long stretches of time—and the show has also been playing with the contestants’ heads. (One example: contestants aren’t sure whether an injured young man they come across is dying or faking it. Turns out he’s faking it.)
The main twist to The Last One is that when the apocalyptic event in this story occurs, Sam is alone, expecting weirdness and fakery, expecting things to get rough. So when they do, she thinks it’s part of the game. As she wanders the landscape, following the route of the race/game, she sees increasing signs of death and devastation, but she has seen what the show’s producers and their huge budget can do to mimic devastation. She begins to wonder what is real and what isn’t…but how can she be sure? And who should she trust, when anyone could be an actor planted by the show?
As readers, we know that there has indeed been a cataclysmic epidemic of some kind, but we don’t know how bad it is, either. Is Sam truly The Last One on earth? Or at least the second last, since she ends up with a traveling companion, a boy that she thinks is also a plant from the show.
The premise and the storyline are intriguing, although the way the book is written made it hard for me to get into it. It switches back and forth between Sam’s first-person point of view in the present, as the catastrophe is unfolding, and scenes from a month or so before, showing how the TV show progressed up until this point. The scenes in the past are told from an omniscient narrator’s point of view who observes and reports everyone equally. At first, that kind of narration really distanced me from all the characters—plus, when the NOW you’re reading about is possibly the end of the world, do you really care about suddenly switching back to a long scene with lots of characters at the beginning of the competition trying to follow a compass and bickering and stubbing their toes?
However, after a while I had learned enough about the characters to care more, and to be intrigued how the super-epidemic was going to hit the show, and the relationships and enmities forming among all the contestants, to the point that I was really turning the pages.
Ultimately, the book left me feeling sad. Not the way a lot of post-apocalyptic books do, because the world is left doomed. This one actually has a fairly hopeful ending as far as the world goes. But as a Christian reader, the book depressed me for a couple of reasons.
One, the only real bad guy in the book was—you guessed it, I’ll bet!—the one who is identified as a Christian. Or someone’s cartoon idea of a Christian. He talks constantly about demons and exorcisms and is pretty much a psycho.
This would be more tolerable if there were good people of true faith in the story, but here is an early quote from the main character—the one we’re supposed to identify with: “Watching a cartoon of Adam and Eve falling for the ridiculous whisperings of a snake and then being thrown out of their home by God was one thing. Acknowledging this cartoon not as fantasy but as an accurate representation of history was another. Even as a ten-year-old, I was repulsed. When I was introduced to the ideas of Charles Darwin and Gregor Mendel in school several years later, I experienced the closest thing I’ve ever known to a spiritual revelation. I recognized truth.”
The main premise of this story is that people need to be able to tell the truth from fiction—because your mind can lead you into deception. And following fictions can kill you. At the end of the story, as Sam thinks back on how she deceived herself for so long, not allowing herself to see the real danger and destruction around her, she thinks about a lost loved one, “Eventually the atoms that together make my skin, my bones, my marrow, my hair and guts and blood will mingle again with yours. I’ll be like you then, nonexistent and everywhere. We don’t need Heaven for this to be true. We don’t need God to be together again. But I wish for it…I wish I could believe that you were still you, more than atoms, watching from above. But I’m done with pretending, with lies and wishful thinking.”
However, without giving too much away, as it turns out, Sam IS still deceived and wrong about some earthly things at this point. So is the author trying to point out how sad and wrong she is about everything, including God and the universe? Has Sam really not progressed to knowledge and truth by the end of the book, but is she on that path?
Or is this a really sad ending, leaving poor Sam still wandering in a fog at the end of The Last One?
- I was provided a copy of The Last One via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Heads Up for Christian Readers:
Note spiritual issues above. Also, there is some pretty rough language–not constant, but scattered throughout–including a couple of F bombs.