Monday, February 7, 2011
The past was Before. The present is Aftertime.
by Sophie Littlefield
Once upon a time, monsters were the stuff of b-movies and campfire tales, and could safely be ignored. And ignore them I did. Last year, a slew of authors got me to believe enough in their science-based vampires to be frightened. It seems that this may be the year of the zombie for me. Not the Voodoo, risen from the dead, magical kind, but the scary, all-too-real, disease-transmitting kind. Sophie Littlefield’s kind.
Ms. Littlefield, it seems, doesn’t want to be pigeonholed. Her latest novel, Aftertime, is a radical departure from anything we’ve seen previously. The first-person narrator is Cass Dollar. Cass has awakened after an indeterminate period of time, badly wounded, in clothes she has never seen before. As she seeks to orient herself, so does the reader. We discover that Cass lives in the near future in Northern California . The details of what happened to Cass, and to the country, are somewhat sketchy, and sussing them out is part of the pleasure of the novel. (There are details, but I don’t want to spoil them for you.) What is clear is that something led to a disease. Many of the old and young died outright. But surviving the initial fever was a far worse fate. It is the diseased survivors that have become zombie-like cannibals—predators, killers, and spreaders of disease.
Cass awakens in a terrible state. She partially remembers being attacked, and given her appearance, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that she was turned. Certainly, she has lost time. But far, far worse, she has lost her three-year-old daughter. Finding Ruthie is Cass’s quest. The reader navigates this altered, post-apocalyptic landscape alongside her, and Cass’s voyage of discovery becomes ours.
In many cases, empathy with the central character will carry you through a book. I have to admit that I didn’t really relate to Cass. I share neither of her most distinguishing and motivating characteristics: motherhood and addiction. Cass isn’t a warm and fuzzy character. (I’m pretty sure the warm and fuzzy have died off in this harsh world.) But I cared about her, and I cared about her quest. I was with her in horrified fascination every step of the way.
Leading up to the startling final pages of this book, I thought to myself: All bets are off. I had no idea what Littlefield was going to do, up to and including kill off her narrator. She managed to pull off one of those great endings that made me feel completely satisfied as though the story had been told. And yet…
I wondered. Has the whole story been told? Certainly, I’m still curious about a lot of what went on Before. And while Cass’s tale came to a satisfying conclusion without annoying hanging threads, it’s a brave new world. There are surely more tales to be told. I was curious enough to make inquiries, and I learned that Aftertime is, in fact, the first of a trilogy. Excellent!