Thanks to my pal Doug for reminding me that the book we all should really be reading in quarantine (or rereading) is Station Eleven.
Station Eleven was the Big Read a couple of years back, and that’s how I first happened to stumble across it.
The library was giving a bunch of copies away for free-eee-eeeee, and free books, like free meals, are one of my weaknesses.
What did I think Station Eleven was going to be about?
Well, judging from its title, I figured it was going to be some sort of (shudder) military adventure, right?
Free-eee-eeee or not, I kinda regretted I’d picked up a copy, but I cracked it open anyway when I got home from the library, and instantly, I was hooked!
In those days, Station Eleven was not topical.
Station Eleven hooked me for two reasons:
In 2001, I wrote a novel, titled Saturday Night in the Sky, about five characters who are all avid fans of a science fiction writer named Felix Guzman. Guzman vanishes abruptly and mysteriously shortly before the action of the novel begins.
The five characters descend separately upon a tiny town on Lake Atitlan for a celebration of Guzman’s oeuvre with a woman named Celeste, Guzman’s Yoko Ono and the keeper of the flame. There, they encounter Maximon, the Last of the Mayan Gods, and pursue various other madcap adventures, which culminate with them saving the world, which y’all may or may not remember was scheduled to end in April 2012 according to multiple Mayan codices.
The novel was actually purty good.
But the one famous agent I had set my heart on working with told me he would only handle it if I rewrote the thing from one central point of view because multiple points of view were just too confusing for readers and, therefore, not commercial.
Despite my belief that I’m right up there with Shakespeare when it comes to brilliance, I am actually pretty timid when it comes to promoting my own writing. There was no way the piece could be rewritten from one central point of view; the multiple points of view were too hard-wired into its nervous system.
So, Saturday Night in the Sky now languishes on a hard drive in a desk drawer somewhere.
When I read Station Eleven, I thought, Wow! This is exactly the structure I was going for!
Because Station Eleven is about a group of characters who all share a connection through a mysterious character named Arthur Leander who dies in the very first chapter of the novel.
The second reason:
On page 350, one of Station Eleven’s characters, Kirsten—you might call her the authorial interject—remembers catching sight of her own reflection in a series of mirrors, and this is the very image that used to precede all my own memories of other lives when I was very, very young, like three or four years old. It was a very specific trigger image! I would see myself reflected ad infinitum down a corridor of mirrors, and I would think, Which one are you now? Because sometimes, at the age of three or four, I would forget.
Anyway. Ahem! Station Eleven is a novel about—you saw this one coming, right?—the aftermath to a pandemic! In terms of plot, it’s a literary reworking of elements from Stephen King’s The Stand, but style-wise, it’s kind of a pastiche of Connie Willis’s Bellwether—a novel I admire extravagantly—and David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas.
In fact, the writing style is very David Mitchell.
Many people have a hard time with David Mitchell, but I generally like him.
Kirsten is part of a band of Shakespearian actors called The Symphony which is traveling up and down the western part of Michigan 20 years after the Georgian Flu has wiped out 99% of human kind. Western Michigan, for those of you who’ve never been there, is a deeply strange place, and Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven’s author, captures that.
She also gets that deep, inchoate sense of longing for vanished things. Here she is about the death of civilization:
An incomplete list:
No more diving into pools of chlorinated water lit green from below. No more ball games played out under floodlights. No more porch lights with moths fluttering on summer nights. No more trains running under the surface of cities on the dazzling power of the electric third rail. No more cities. No more films, except rarely, except with a generator drowning out half the dialogue, and only then for the first little while until the fuel for the generators ran out, because automobile gas goes stale after two or three years. Aviation gas lasts longer, but it was difficult to come by.
No more screens shining in the half-light as people raise their phones above the crowd to take pictures of concert states. No more concert stages lit by candy-colored halogens, no more electronica, punk, electric guitars.
No more pharmaceuticals. No more certainty of surviving a scratch on one's hand, a cut on a finger while chopping vegetables for dinner, a dog bite.
No more flight. No more towns glimpsed from the sky through airplane windows, points of glimmering light; no more looking down from thirty thousand feet and imagining the lives lit up by those lights at that moment. No more airplanes, no more requests to put your tray table in its upright and locked position – but no, this wasn't true, there were still airplanes here and there. They stood dormant on runways and in hangars. They collected snow on their wings. In the cold months, they were ideal for food storage. In summer the ones near orchards were filled with trays of fruit that dehydrated in the heat. Teenagers snuck into them to have sex. Rust blossomed and streaked.
No more countries, all borders unmanned.
No more fire departments, no more police. No more road maintenance or garbage pickup. No more spacecraft rising up from Cape Canaveral, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, from Vandenburg, Plesetsk, Tanegashima, burning paths through the atmosphere into space.
No more Internet. No more social media, no more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches, cries for help and expressions of contentment and relationship-status updates with heart icons whole or broken, plans to meet up later, pleas, complaints, desires, pictures of babies dressed as bears or peppers for Halloween. No more reading and commenting on the lives of others, and in so doing, feeling slightly less alone in the room. No more avatars.
Anyway, I spent a very pleasant day rereading Station Eleven yesterday after I returned from tromping, which I did in the rain.
Whatever side of the river you’re on, the other side always looks nicer:
And what the hell are these weird blossoms anyway? The trees never bear fruit:
Today, we are getting a respite from the rain, so on the agenda are more tromping and possibly some gardening.
Plus I really gotta do some paying work. My client professes to luv me, but it wouldn’t be prudent to test that.
Cross-posted from Dreamwidth