Jonathan Letham is the author of Motherless Brooklyn and other quirky novels, which blend science fiction and realism in a style that has been called (by the author) “genre bending.” He has won a MacArthur grant and is clearly an accomplished writer at the top of his craft.
This book takes place in post-apocalyptic Maine, with characters suspended in an oddly dispassionate, unquestioning almost-reality. As with much of the best science fiction, the story has more to say about today–in this case, America during the Trump era–than it does about predicting a realistic future. The unmoored, almost dreamlike quality of the story, where neither the author nor his characters seem to know what to think, provides a surprisingly excellent vehicle for readers to process their own experiences.
The apocalypse that occurred several years before the novel begins, was a sudden “arrest” of modern conveniences such as computers, radio, cell phones, cars, planes, and guns. There is no consistency to the things that stopped working, nor is any explanation offered. The people stranded together in a community of organic farmers on the coast of Maine do not seem to particularly care what happened, or why. They have the one thing that matters at the end of the world—sustainable food sources. They have enough to feed everyone, including the inland community of militaristic guys, called The Cordon, who are either keeping the farmers trapped or protecting them from outside intrusion. It hardly matters.
This sort-of-idyllic utopia is threatened one Tuesday when an enormous, mobile machine, carrying a man who claims to have driven there from California, breaks through The Cordon. Our hero, Journeyman, who used to be a screenwriter before visiting his farmer sister just before the Arrest, knows the driver of the vehicle. Todbaum was an unscrupulous movie mogul who’d built an empire on lies and narcissistic persuasion, and was Journeyman’s boss. He brings stories about the outside world, which may or may not be true. And he brings with him dangerous reminders of a past which really might be better forgotten after all.