It isn't often that my home stomping grounds appear in books, outside of Hemingway's terse words, or, if you're lucky, some Jim Harrison short lit-fic. But Station Eleven, a National Book Award Finalist by Emily St. John Mandel, finally gives me some home-town love in a post-disaster tale of art, life, limited-edition comic books, music, and cults.
In it, the world has ended, but life has gone on. Having made it through the rough first years, the semblance of civilization is returning and a life that was once unimaginable has become normal. It is a short book (333 pages), but not without depth, eloquence, and punch — well written and well paced. The novel centers on events at a theater in Toronto and the travels of a post-apocalyptic travelling symphony in northern Michigan. Locals to both northern Michigan and Toronto will recognize places in the book, as well as details such as the prevalent tourist sweaters (if you've been up here, you know they are everywhere).
Station Eleven struck me with its lyrical writing. Sentences stick out here and there, that feel like they could be from a book of poems, or a koan, such as "This is my soul and the world unwinding, this is my heart in the still winter air," from page 194.
The plot is simple: we've got the usual doom by pandemic. But this isn't the point; it's set-dressing. The real focus are the connections between the modern and post-apocalyptic worlds, and the people within, as shown by the narrative, interview and book excerpts, and the repetition of the appearance of the "Station Eleven" comic books, the mention of religion, and the theme of relationships and how they get away from us.
The characterization is well done, each character with their own unique identity, voice, wants, and needs. No one is perfect; everyone is flawed and believably human, with the familiar trials and tribulations that come with life, no matter the setting. We are social creatures by nature, and it's from this that much of the drama in our lives unfolds.
On the whole, Station Eleven is more introspective than I usually prefer — if you're looking for Mad Max, this isn't it — but it was an interesting, well-put-together book, with believable characters, lyrical writing, and it was an added bonus to see another person's point of view on a local area.