Quarantine ), America has regressed to medieval conditions. After a forgotten eco-reaction in "/>
 

The Pesthouse

Jim Crace, Author
Jim Crace, Author . Doubleday/Talese $24.95 (255p) ISBN 978-0-385-52075-1
Reviewed on: 01/29/2007
Release date: 05/01/2007

In this postapocalyptic picaresque from Whitbread-winner Crace (for Quarantine ), America has regressed to medieval conditions. After a forgotten eco-reaction in the distant past, the U.S. government, economy and society have collapsed. The illiterate inhabitants ride horses, fight with bows and swords and scratch a meager living from farming and fishing. But with crop yields and fish runs mysteriously dwindling, most are trekking to the Atlantic coast to take ships to the promised land of Europe, gawking along the way at the ruins of freeways and machinery yards, which seem the wasteful excesses of giants. Heading east, naïve farm boy Franklin teams up with Margaret, a recovering victim of the mysterious "flux" whose shaven head (mark of the unclean) causes passersby to shun her. Their love blossoms amid misadventures in an anarchic landscape: Franklin is abducted by slave-traders; Margaret falls in with a religious sect that bans metal and deplores manual labor, symbolically repudiating America's traditional cult of progress, technology and industriousness (masculinity takes some hits, too). Crace's ninth novel leaves the U.S. impoverished, backward, fearful and abandoned by history. Less crushing than Cormac McCarthy's The Road and less over-the-top than Matthew Sharpe's Jamestown (to name two recent postapocalyptos), Crace's fable is an engrossing, if not completely convincing, outline of the shape of things to come. (May)

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