What I’m Reading: #Covid-19 #StayAtHome Edition

On Sal Mal Lane: A Novel by [Freeman, Ru]

Don’t expect anything escapist and fun here (well, maybe something slipped in). But do expect to find common themes of tragedy, human fraility, resiliency, and survival.

Current Reads:

  • On Sal Mal Lane by Ru Freeman – I’m about half-way through this wonderful, Dickensian look at normal people trying to navigate social mores, keep up appearances, and lead their day-to-day lives on the cusp of the Sri Lankan civil war. Told mostly from the point of view of the neighborhood children, this is shaping up like an all-time classic.
  • The End of Echoes by Dawn Hosmer – I’m oh-so-close to finishing this emotionally exhausting read (and I mean that in a mostly good way) about emotionally exhausted families going through extreme trauma and change. Some of the tribulations are repetative, but they speak keenly to cycles of abuse and behavior. Not surprisingly, the author is a former social worker.

In My Queue:

Past Reads that Seem Fitting For Our Time:

  • When It’s Over by Barbara Ridley – I read this just last year, and it’s a powerful and engrossing look at refugees living through the blitzkriegs over England during WWII.
  • Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky – It’s been many years since I read this, but the author’s “in the moment” depiction of Nazi-occupied France is still one of my all-time favorite novels.
  • Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje – Want to know more about the Sri Lankan civil war? Ondaatje’s devastating and haunting masterpiece will fuel your dreams.
  • The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen – a timely read about a small town under quarantine during the Spanish Flu pandemic.

I would be remiss not to plug my own works:

  • Then Came Darkness – a novel about a family struggling through the Great Depression while trying to keep a murderous man hellbent on revenge at bay.
  • And Then We Vanish – my new collection of short stories (lit fiction with a twist) due to be released April 7th, 2020.

What’s in your reading pile this spring of extreme social distancing?

A Review of Thomas Mullen’s “The Last Town on Earth”

A Novel

  Intimate and Fascinating Historical Fiction

Reviewer: David H. Schleicher

See all my reviews

Thomas Mullen’s debut novel, “The Last Town on Earth” tells a tale both intimate and epic in its depiction of a small Northwestern town that attempts to close itself off from the rest of the world during the height of WWI and the Spanish Flu Epidemic.

At times, Mullen’s writing style is long-winded and overly descriptive. He creates an amazingly detailed sense of time, place, and people in his descriptions of the town of Commonwealth and its inhabitants. However, the early sections move a bit too slowly and are plagued with the overuse of commas, adverbs, and adjectives and riddled with long passages where not much happens at all. Mullen is the type of writer who likes to describe something, describe something next to it, and then describe both things together in a slightly different way. He made the characters and situations compelling enough for me to want to read on, but this was one of those books I found easy to put down and could discard for days or a week at time.

Luckily, this all changed around the 200-page mark (slightly more than half way through). Once all hell breaks loose, and outsiders and the flu come crashing down on Commonwealth, the pace of the novel picks up drastically, and I had come to care for the characters so much (especially the Worthy family, Graham, and Elsie) that I could hardly tear myself away from the ensuing pages.

Mullen’s descriptions of the symptoms of the flu are vivid and graphic, without ever being gratuitous or reaching that gross-out level. Likewise, he handles the few scenes of visceral violence with a similar level of class. His often stilted style of writing is best suited when he describes the physical attributes of his settings and creates haunting, post-card perfect images of the town and people. Mullen should also be commended for balancing well the wide-eyed innocence of the teenage characters (Phillip Worthy and Elsie) with the grizzled wisdom of the adults in their life (Charles Worthy, Doc Banes, Graham, and the other mill workers) and the often inhospitable and brutal nature of their surroundings, predicaments, and reactions of their neighbors. He peppers his intimate small-town tale with lots of epic side-stories involving draft-dodging, labor strikes, warring timber mills, first loves, tragic childhoods, passionate romances, and political uprising. It all makes for grand drama.

Despite some flaws, “The Last Town on Earth” is an intriguing and intimate glimpse into a fascinating time and place in our not-so-distant past when some small towns attempted reverse quarantines to hold off the flu epidemic that ultimately killed 100 million people worldwide. This was also a time when many people felt strongly against America’s involvement in The Great War. The paranoia, the fear, and the guilt felt over decisions made mirrors events both past and current. It’s a timeless tale, told in a timely way, which will speak to many in a heartfelt and real fashion.