Sunday, December 11, 2011

Summer of the Apocalypse: A Review.

James Van Pelt’s Summer of the Apocalypse is both an apocalypse-in-progress, and a post-apocalyptic tale set near Denver Colorado.  Its duel nature comes from it being both the current story of an old man who has survived long past the pandemic that destroyed modern civilization, and that is also his reminiscences of the time when he was a teenager trying to survive the cataclysmic events.

James Van Pelt is a high school language arts (English) teacher in Colorado.  He has three short story collections published and his short stories have won a number of awards. Summer of the Apocalypse, published in 2006, was his first novel.  I gather his short fiction is a bit quirky, here is one example:  Just Before Recess.  He no longer seems to be keeping up with his journal page, so possibly he has given up the hunt, or possibly he is just resting.

The two parts of the novel, are interspersed with each other.  The pandemic hit when Eric was 15.  His father grabbed him and his mother and headed for the hills with a hastily assembled car full of supplies.  The father, who is a bit distant from his son, has a bit of a clue and they hide themselves out in a little cave.  The mother does not make it, and the father leaves to get an ambulance.  When he does not return, Eric goes looking for him.  The youthful portions of the story are mostly based around his journey to find his father and the odd episodic adventures along the way.

The current portion of the story is Eric the grandfather with his grandson Dodge, and Dodge’s friend Rabbit.  They are off on a quest of sorts and have various…. odd episodic adventures along the way.

The book is combination of odd little vignettes, combined with odd polemics against the modern (as in today’s current) society.  A young unschooled woman, who worships a cuckoo clock (o.k. it was a grandfather clock), argues self-tutored eart-mother versions of Kant or Nietzsche or some such with Eric who presumably picked up his philosophy from remembered snippets of Run DMC that he recalls from his youth.  The bad guys are parodies of modern soldiers with little skills, but armed with left over M-16s.

This book has a number of fans, so I am not saying it is without merit.  It seems to be particularly popular with people who hated McCarthy's The Road.   It fell a bit flat with me.  There are some grim moments, but they are interspersed with so much that is surreal that it is hard to take them seriously.  The sudden delayed-reaction problems with toxic waste remnants of the long gone industrial society is as overdone as the super-virus.  A virus that is more dangerous and faster than the diseases that wiped out the Native Americans:  it took 100s of years to do that.

For our descriptive (versus qualitative) accounting:  1 to 7 with 7 being high.  For grittiness/realism I would say that it is a two.  There is no overt magic, but a lot that comes very close to mother-nature-earth-goddess  material, in addition there speculative science fictional parts as well.  When, as noted above, your dangerous natives spout Nietzsche at you, you are not in high realism territory.

Readability is bit harder.  Each chapter shifts from the 15 year old to the 75 year old Eric.  With a story that tends to be highly episodic, this pattern breaks it up even more.  However, the author’s actual word choice and sentence structure is well executed.    It is not a masterpiece of fluidity, but it better than average at 5.
James Van Belt


Kelly Robinson said...

I hadn't heard of this one. Will add it to the list!

russell1200 said...

This one used to show up a lot on the "ustomers Who Bought This Item Also Bought" row at Amazon. With the new surge of apocalypse writings out there, its visibility seems to have waned.

I have a pile of "apocalyptic" books waiting to be read. I hate to admit it but I cannot keep up with all of them. All I need to do to discover one, is go back and refresh my memory of my pile. LOL.