"The Last Town on Earth"

I finished this book on the plane trip down to St. Louis tonight. It's a story about a logging town (Commonwealth) in Washington, set during the time of both the end of World War 1 and the Spanish flu (1918). Neighboring towns have been decimated by this vicious strain of flu (which ended up killing more Americans than the war did), and the citizens of Commonwealth set up a quarantine to try and prevent it from invading their town.

Now, this sounds like a simple premise. But Thomas Mullen does a remarkable job of enriching the storyline in so many ways. I don't want to give away too much, but as you start to learn more about the characters and their own personal histories and how they tie into the history of the town (and one of its neighboring towns with bad results), you start to get a sense for how deep Mullen takes this story. I won't say this is the best book I've ever read, but it comes awfully close. It's one of those books that I just couldn't put down, even when the story started to drag a bit (a 1/3 of the way into it), and as I kept reading I realized how necessary it was for Mullen to develop the story the way he does. If you get that same feeling, stick with it - it's so worth it. There were many passages that really got to me (as you can imagine this isn't an easy story to read - some of the descriptions of the flu are disturbing and very sad) - here's one that stuck out:

When all was well, you assumed that to suffer such a staggering blow would break you, but when such ills actually befell you, you somehow persevered. You didn't survive to prove something to anyone, you didn't press on simply because you wished to, and you didn't endure because of what the preacher in church said. You survived because deep inside everyone was the simple, indefatigable need to press on, whatever the costs. And even if so much was stripped away that you no longer recognized yourself, the thing left was the part of you that you never understood, that you always underestimated, that you were always afraid to look at. You were afraid you'd need it one day and it wouldn't be there for you, but in fact was the one thing that couldn't be taken away.

I highly recommend reading it.

* Posted at 03.23.2009 11:51:25 PM CST | Link *

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