cover image The Survivalists

The Survivalists

Kashana Cauley. Soft Skull, $26 (280p) ISBN 978-1-59376-727-3

TV writer Cauley’s well-crafted if schematic debut involves a New York City lawyer’s quest to make partner at her firm and find love. Aretha is a successful Black corporate attorney assigned to squash a bunch of homeowners’ insurance claims following Superstorm Sandy. Meanwhile, after countless failed dates, she meets and falls in love with coffee entrepreneur Aaron, who lives with his business partner, Brittany, in the Brooklyn house they collectively own. But once Aretha moves in, she finds out the household members, who include James, a disgraced former journalist, are stockpiling guns and making other preparations for survival, having been stirred in part by Sandy’s destruction (the business name, Tactical Coffee, ought to have been a red flag). With Aaron out of town sourcing beans, Aretha accompanies James on gun runs, but in her determination to prove her worth, she loses focus at work and starts slipping up. Cauley’s understanding of plot is impeccable and she keeps the tension taut as Aretha gets more involved with the group, but though the author lightly grapples with the politics of gun ownership, the matter is ultimately reduced to cheap thrills (Aretha, for instance, “wanted to enjoy the rush of her last trip to make money off guns”), and the characters are written to type. It’s a good story, but it should have gone straight to screenplay. (Jan.)