Wow. This stunning book succeeds on so many different levels--as an engrossing story, a character study, a history lesson, a modern day political allegory--I don't even know where to begin the praise. The Last Town on Earth
centers on the inhabitants of a small logging town in Washington and what happens when they take drastic measures (quarantine) to try and protect themselves from the virulent and deadly flu epidemic of 1918. When a deserting WWI soldier demands sanctuary, events are set in motion that change the town forever.
Although this is Mullen's first published work, there are none of the usual verbal pyrotechnics or high-wire "look how well I can write" balancing acts one sees with beginning authors. How refreshing to read a younger author who has already progressed beyond his ego and knows that it's all about story, story, story. Mullen tells his tale cleanly, simply and plainly--making the ironies and allegories all the more potent. I knew almost nothing of the flu epidemic of 1918 and even less about the political climate in the US during WW1. These are not subjects I would go out of my way to read about, but Mullen has made them compelling and interesting. In fact, the author's voice has the same level of confidence and maturity that one only finds in writers with decades more experience (I kept thinking of Wallace Stegner and Alice Munro while I was reading)--authors who earn your trust and confidence so early and easily that you completely relax into the writing and the voice. It's already on my Ten Best List; I can't imagine I'll read ten better books this year. It's easily the most impressive and heartfelt book I've read in a long while. --Terry Goodman
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From Publishers Weekly
It is the autumn of 1918 and a world war and an influenza epidemic rage outside the isolated utopian logging community of Commonwealth, Wash. In an eerily familiar climate of fear, rumor and patriotic hysteria, the town enacts a strict quarantine, posting guards at the only road into town. A weary soldier approaches the gate on foot and refuses to stop. Shots ring out, setting into motion a sequence of events that will bring the town face-to-face with some of the 20th-century's worst horrors. Mullen's ambitious debut is set against a plausibly sketched background, including events such the Everett Massacre (between vigilantes and the IWW), the political repression that accompanied the U.S. entry into WWI and the rise of the Wobblies. But what Mullen supplies in terms of historical context, he lacks in storytelling; though the novel is set in 1918, it was written in a post 9/11 world where fear of bird flu regularly makes headlines, and the allegory is heavy-handed (the protagonist townie, after all, is named Philip Worthy). The grim fascination of the narrative, however, will keep readers turning the pages. (Sept.)
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