Sunday, November 22, 2009

On "Last Last Chance" by Fiona Maazel **

The movie 2012 hit the theaters last weekend. It's about the end of the world. Great filmmaking? Hardly, I've been told. One could care hardly less for the end of the world than in this movie--but oh boy, the special effects.

By chance, I happened to be reading a book about the possible end of the world at the same time as that movie arrived. And bleak this book is. This is no Oprah pick of the month. People die. People do not get better--or they get better, but why bother, since they're going to die anyway?

About fifteen years ago, I read a book by Dave Bowman called Let the Dog Drive. I was attracted to it by the book's beginning and its snappy copy. I finished it, feeling I'd read a bit too much (weirdness). I had the same feeling with Maazel's debut novel. We get a story about a superplague that panics the nation. We get it from the point of view of the family of the unassuming creator of the superplague, which by the way is a family made up of drug addicts. A family of drug addicts? A nation dealing with a plague? A family dealing with a patriarch blamed for releasing the plague into the public? Any one of these could have been the subject of a book. Put them together, and for me, it seemed a bit over the top. Most of the time. And almost unrelentingly bleak, despite the narrator's apparent recovery from addiction.

Maazel, however, is a talented writer. Line upon line, sentence upon sentence, shines. Those first several pages will hook you. And there are other places where this novel becomes hard to put down as well. I found particularly interesting the first portion of part 2, wherein our narrator Lucy, a lifelong drug addict, goes to rehab with her mother, another long-term drug addict. While there, the feared superplague finally begins a full-force charge across the United States, and it's coming right for the areas surrounding this desert rehab oasis. The rehab center goes into lockdown. Now it's the folks in rehab versus the world. Keep all at bay, not just so that we can recover but so that we can avoid the plague. It's the most engaging section of the novel, one that could be a book of its own. Or a movie. 2013 anyone?

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