Late in 2011, on a previous blog, I reviewed an obscure sci-fi book by RC Sheriff about a cataclysmic disaster involving an asteroid, the moon, and our earth. In fact, I picked up Pfeffer’s book because it looked like it would be Sheriff’s story told from a different POV. Sheriff’s narrator, Mr. Hopkins, gets a brief mention early in Life, and I kept hoping he’d reappear as evidence that Pfeffer has read The Hopkins Manuscript and that this much later book is an homage of sorts to Sheriff’s. After finishing Pfeffer’s first volume in the Last Survivors Series, I still can’t answer my initial question.
Miranda (tip of the hat to Shakespeare’s The Tempest) lives with her mother and two brothers in northeastern Pennsylvania. They are all outside watching as an asteroid crashes into the moon, as predicted. However, NOT as predicted, the asteroid nudges the moon closer to the earth, and within a few days disaster ensues. Tsunamis, tidal floods, volcanoes, ash-filled skies, early winter, dying crops, flu epidemics: Pfeffer is pitiless as she throws every possible calamity at her characters.
In the first few pages after the impact, the characters’ reactions are almost funny. No one knows yet what the shifting orbit means except for the inconvenience of a brighter moon at night. But then a shopping scene during a powerful electrical storm, when Miranda’s mother shows what really needs to be in everyone’s Go Bag, turns the plot, and all laughter ends. Survival is serious business and requires a selfish me-and-my-family first attitude that looks cruel, even in Miranda’s eyes.
Much like Anne Frank her cramped attic, Miranda must endure unending togetherness, and a moment alone is savored, despite its being in a freezing attic or emptying the bedpan a few yards from her house. As a teen, she has the usual adolescent struggles with parent and siblings, going from love to hate and back to love within a single day, set off by simple incidents such as her mother’s (justifiable) concern when she takes too long to return from town. But on top of this, she must contend with survival guilt as friends and acquaintances die or leave for unknown fates.
Much cruelty is demanded from each character before the end of this novel, and, although the final scene holds promise of recovery, it’s easy to see that the world has changed. Kindness still exists, but it’s a luxury few can afford.
I add the video below in honor of the late Harold Ramis, who could find humor even in a disaster of biblical proportions:
NB: Pfeffer recently announced on her blog that she’s retiring from the authorial field. After nearly 80 books, including the 4 in this series, we shouldn’t complain.