Job was born just in time to watch the promise of the former United States fade definitively away. Kirk Kjeldsen’s darkly realistic postapocalyptic novel East begins in the small Oregon town where Job grew up—where the mines lie abandoned and everyone’s next meal is dependent on their ability to hunt, scavenge, or trade.
Job is only a teenager, but he’s already seen struggling towns blink dead as the air chokes out opportunities, wildlife, and his loved ones. After his brother Eli dies—having just revealed that their mother might still be alive in China—Job decides to set out for less polluted shores. Getting across the ocean means submitting himself to traffickers, though, and he finds himself in an unwelcoming land where immigrants live “invisible lives, and they [die] invisible deaths.”
Job’s journey to China may be driven by the hope of a reunion with his mother, but hope is something that the novel always handles with suspicion. Climate change and collapsed governments make Job’s a world in which brutality is assured and death is always close at hand. Even that final escape isn’t considered with much relief: Job projects that the “infinite void … might actually be dark and empty and of this world.”
If hope is not the point of the novel, its unflinching consideration of what might be ahead for human beings is. It amplifies current concerns and portends a future in which reversing course may be impossible. Job himself becomes one name in a grander human drama as he continent-hops toward the end of the world. Around him, others clutch tight to their increasingly irrelevant and disappearing luxuries, but tides keep rising, and there’s no real hope of salvation. Colored by violence and desperation, East’s cli-fi futurescape is both sobering and gripping.
Michelle Anne Schingler
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