Monday, May 9, 2016

MMGM: The Big Dark by Rodman Philbrick


A solar event knocks out our planet's electricity, and a boy must risk his life to save his sick mother.

What would you do if every spark of electricity suddenly vanished, as if somebody had flipped a switch on the entire planet? Cars won't start, the heat shuts off, there's no water in your faucet, and your radio, TV, and flashlight go dark. Everyone in Charlie's small town is baffled.

But as time passes, lawlessness erupts and takes an ugly turn. When the market and pharmacy are torched by an anti-Semitic arsonist, Charlie realizes his mother will die without her medicine. So he dons skis and heads off alone, seeking the nearest hospital. After traveling fifty miles through brutal ice and snow, Charlie encounters a burned-out, looted city of terrified citizens. Will he be able to save his mom?


Dystopia has grown rapidly as a genre over the last few years.  It's become increasingly popular.  But I have a problem with it sometimes because it's so dark and depressing. Philbrick's The Big Dark touches on this genre without going into the dark realms that older dystopias do.  In some ways the book feels very much like it could really happen.  Charlie along with much of his small town is outside enjoying the most incredible northern lights that anyone has ever seen when a massive wave of light sweeps over them.  Once everyone recovers they discover that every ounce of electrical power has gone with it.  The cars won't start, the generators won't work, and even flashlights stop working. Living as they do in New Hampshire in the middle of winter, serious problems immediately arise.  Just keeping their homes heated and everyone fed becomes a difficult task.  When a paranoid local who carries his rifle everywhere starts preaching survival of the fittest at the cost of everyone he hates, the town wavers on the edge of violence.  Only the cool head of the volunteer policeman keeps things from erupting into chaos.

Things take a turn for the worse, however, when Charlie's mother runs low on medicine.  Charlie determines that if he can get to the nearest town he should be able to get enough medicine to carry his mother over till spring.  But traveling alone on skis turns out to be more exhausting and difficult then he imagined and when he does make it to the city, things are no better there.  While a relatively short read, The Big Dark touches on some pretty big issues, everything from bigotry and disaster, to survival and goodness in the face of self-preservation.  One of the characters does say some pretty awful things though about those different than himself and his family, but the author makes it clear within the story that these are awful things that aren't true. I also found it interesting the way the book ended, not quite the way one might expect, proving that sometimes no matter how hard we try, things don't turn out the way we wish, but by coming together life doesn't have to be wholly awful either.  A surprisingly thoughtful book considering it's length, that contains parallels that apply very much to our time.

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