Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Depressing Choices: The Last Town on Earth

Last To

Thomas Mullen's The Last Town on Earth: A Novel is a book about people consistently making poor choices, through good intentions, through greed or anger, through grief or frustration or weakness or because of needing to justify earlier poor choices.  No one has a chance; some of the best endings come to the people dying of the flu.

The Last Town on Earth is a place founded on idealism; a well-off man hopes to build a lumber mill in cooperation with his employees rather than through exploitation and union-busting.  The town bands together in their optimism, reinforced by the suspicion that other communities have towards their socialist tendencies in the militant days of World War One.  When the flu spreads across America, the town leaders decide to isolate themselves in hopes of avoiding the disease.  Things do not go well.

Philip, the young adopted son of the mill owner, moves from a slightly insecure youth to an embattled young man who can longer trust his father or his best friend.  He leaves the book attempting to cling to some strands of optimism -- he did grow in strength through the horrible events of the book, but it's pretty clear that the next few months will break him and destroy that hope.  Graham, his friend and mentor, also faces a grim future, since even if he manages to avoid prison (very doubtful) he has lost his job, his home, his wife's trust, and his self-respect.  The town is probably doomed, and the few characters who still show hope seem more misguided than reassuring.

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