Station Eleven, revisited

When Emily St. John Mandel’s novel, Station Eleven, first came out in hardback, I resisted it. I picked it up a few times, reading the opening (I loved the opening), but — oh, gee, it was another dystopia , and did I really want to read or watch one more story about the end of life as we know it? So I mentally counted up the number of books on my TBR list, already waiting at home, and I left it on the bookstore shelf. When it was released in paperback, I went through this process again. When I saw it on CD at my library, however, I could no longer resist. I grabbed it.

I loved Station Eleven. I listened to it (parts of it twice) and then I bought a copy and read it again. It is one of those rare, debut novels that not only hooked me for the first 50 pages — “audacious, darkly glittering” pages — but kept me hooked all the way through to the last page. No fifth act problems (quite an accomplishment, considering that it begins with a staging of King Lear). The structure is magical. We move from the story of Arthur Leander (it’s his enactment of King Lear that gets us rolling), then follow a man slipping outside the theater into a snow storm, and a flu epidemic; we pick up the story 20 years later with a child actress now grown; we move back to Arthur’s first marriage and the creation of an amazing graphic story that will survive civilization’s collapse. And so on. It’s all intricately woven together. Mandel moves so deftly between time periods, and from one character to another, that I — well, that I wanted to tell you about it.

Add to this vignette the fact that my family spent the last few days in our own post-apocalyptic bubble. We thought having a tree fall in our back yard last week — and miss all the outbuildings (hitting only the fence) — was so lucky. Then on Saturday, our main sewer line backed up. Then on Sunday, we lost power. So by Monday morning (the morning of my birthday, mind you), we had been living for 36 hours without toilets or washing machines or drains of any kind, and for 18 hours in the dark, without heat. Power was restored late Monday afternoon, but we learned that the sewer problem was not going to be simple. I couldn’t help thinking of the ordeals of the characters in Station Eleven (and so many other such novels and movies and TV shows), how I in fact have sort of romanticized their stories, wishing (at times) for simpler, pre-Internet (and fully wired offspring) days at the very least.

Gradually, it dawned on me that this is the world my characters — Puritan America and circa World War I — inhabit. Oh! (Insights abound.)

Of course I could drive to Caffe Ladro and order my usual almond milk double latte. I could come to the library and check my gmail. I could get a very lucky phone call from a friend offering us the use of her house while she is away. (Birthday dinner saved!)

And, a little money down the road, we will get access to our plumbing again.

Interesting, what we take for granted until we don’t have it. A friend from Writing Lab reminded me of something Garrison Keillor says: “Nothing bad ever happens to writers; it’s all just material.”

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3 thoughts on “Station Eleven, revisited

  1. Wonderful book review, and also a telling personal story that illuminates how much we take for granted. Happy belated birthday!

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