Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Title: Station Eleven, Author: Emily St. John Mandel  Then: Arthur Leander, a famous movie actor, has a heart attack on stage during the performance of King Lear. A trainee paramedic named Jeevan rushes from the audience to the stage, pushes past security and starts performing CPR. Kirsten Raymond, a child actress who was playing the younger version of one of Lear's daughters witnesses Arthur's demise. Just hours earlier Arthur had given the young actress a copy of the first two volumes of a comic book his first ex-wife Miranda had written and drawn.

Later that same night Jeevan is on the phone with a doctor friend about to tell him about the crazy night he had at the theater. The doctor interrupts Jeevan and reminds him how he (the doctor) had promised he would tell Jeevan if there was ever a reason to be worried. Now there is a reason to be worried. A 16-year-old girl arrived on a plane from Moscow with flu-like symptoms. Within forty-eight hours she was dead. Other people from the same plane began arriving at the hospital with the same symptoms. They died too, along with the nurse who initially treated the 16-year-old. With that the Georgian Flu pandemic begins. Within weeks the majority of the human population is dead, or so one assumes. The story takes place in North America and pretty soon the east coast can't communicate with people on the west coast of the United States, let alone the rest of the world so who know what happened elsewhere.

Later: It's year 20, as if time started over. Kirsten is part of a troupe of actors and musicians that call themselves the Traveling Symphony. They travel from town to town performing Shakespeare and music. Gasoline goes bad after a few years so now people travel on horseback, or with horses pulling old cars (so no longer the horseless carriages as they were once called), or on their own two feet. At one of their usual stops the Symphony discovers that a once friendly town has been taken over by a strange man calling himself the prophet. The Symphony quickly moves on but it isn't their last encounter with the prophet and his followers.

Elsewhere people have set up a settlement of sorts at the airport. When the pandemic began planes were diverted from their original destination and landed at the nearest airport. Some ended up at the Severn City airport in Michigan. At first people waited for the national guard to show up and do something but after weeks, months, it became clear that no one was coming.

That is pretty much the plot and setting of Station Eleven. The story jumps between the past and the present and from character to character. Over the course of 300 plus pages people die from the flu, violence, and minor ailments and accidents that would have been treated easily before but without hospitals and medicines are now fatal. There are people who remember the old world and children who can't quite conceive of the Internet, telephones, or air conditioning.

I liked this but also wondered what the point was or where it was going. I kept waiting for something more to happen. The story seemed incomplete. It reminded me a little of World War Z, another story about a world wide crisis and how people either die or survive the crisis. That novel tackles the different ways people responded and why. In Station Eleven there is very little of the immediate aftermath of the crisis. Two decades have passed and people are living and surviving and it isn't totally clear how they did it, which made for a less interesting story. This was pleasant but by no means a favorite read.

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