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Horatio Alger would have been proud
on May 17, 2010
This book is well written, but if considered as an ideal response to a major crisis (ie, the end of the world) it is rather unbelievable, and extraordinarily culturally limited to Horatio Alger in its way of looking at the world.
One unbelievable point that has nothing to do with Alger: Everything we would associate with our world gradually comes to an end. The sisters live with their father in a house by the forest, around 30 miles from a town. The sisters and the father drive to town on a regular basis for supplies, yet they never find out what is happening in this world that would cause such a disastrous disruption. There is no explanation, no hints of a beginning to the crisis, though one sister is an internet addict, and the father is a principle at an elementary school. One can't even assume that the father knows the details yet wishes to spare the children, as nothing like this is hinted at, and the children are hardly infants, being sixteen and seventeen when the world starts its descent into the maelstrom. An internet addicted sixteen year old somehow misses out on noting the end of civilization? Yes, she does, in this novel.
Perhaps the most unbelievable aspect of this book is the change the sisters make from one winter to the next after the father's death: One winter they are in despair, playing games while their food supply runs out; next winter, they are expert survivalists, using an inadequate book with fuzzy black&white plates to sow the garden of Eden and find sustenance in the forest.
Tied into their miraculously successful survival is the American belief that radical individualism will lead to miraculous success; Horatio Alger would have been proud of this novel. One would think that a seventeen year old who knows little about forest life and gardens would need the help of other human beings to survive. This book discards that quaint notion. Apparently if you live near a forest, need to survive, and decide to raise yourself up by your bootstraps, you will succeed. You will also have your cake and eat it, too: While using the image of human beings who were genuinely communal (native Americans) to further ennoble yourself (oh noble savage, where art thou?), you will manage to create the least communal society of all, one where you, your sister, and your nephew miraculously thrive in a forest away from those pesky neighbors. Who needs the pesky neighbors, anyway? How convenient that the book depicts the individualist sisters as the survivors, while the town, with its community, is a failure. Apparently no one in town had a garden. No one had the capacity to go hunting. Those neighbors--they could be rapists, child molesters and dangerous. Do NOT trust them. No, instead of relying on a community, rely on yourself, because if you do, it will work out. Of course it will.
At the very end, the sisters note the footsteps of (gasp, horror!!!!) a man--ie, another human being in this lost world. And they run for dear life, because humans are dangerous and individualism trumps all. If we grit our teeth and work hard, the knowledge will magically come to us, and we'll make it. A difficult birth will magically right itself. A garden will magically grow. A sow will magically die. We'll magically know which plants in a forest are poisonous, and which are not. If we decide to do it on our own, all will be well.
Hence the title of this review: Unbelievable, but, oh, so so so so American.