Second book down in the GFBA – Steven Amsterdam’s slender and poetic post-apocalypse tale “Things We Didn’t See Coming”.
Amsterdam’s greatest insight when writing this book was to structure it as a series of stand-alone chapters, each one moving the narrative on a few years at a time, so that all of the violence and chaos is caught in the corner of the eye, rather than thrown centre stage. Allusive and vague, this injects a tense realism to the story. At the same time, unlike Cormac McCarthy’s harrowing “The Road”, Amsterdam doesn’t follow his main character from point to point through the blasted landscape of a collapsed society, but shows all the compromises and hypocrisies of a tentative social reconstruction. Starting with the irrational hysteria about the Y2K computer bug, the narrative moves through war, flood, disease, drought and fire, (like Biblical plagues, as one walk-on character observes). By the end of the book, riddled with various cancers that seem more routine than life-threatening, the narrator adapts to survive in a way that feels fitting and, in a strange way, precisely observed. Amsterdam keeps his prose light and unobtrusive, and just the right side of elegiac. There was something profoundly sad about it, moving even.
It didn’t make the shortlist for the GFBA, but it’s definitely worth reading, and is easily less polarising that “Boxer Beetle”.
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