The Last Town on Earth

The Last Town on EarthThis story takes place during a grim and volatile period in U.S history, when many factors could turn neighbor against neighbor While some were losing their sons in WWI, there was a large anti war movement and many men refused to enlist There was also great worker unrest and violence involving the Wobblies I.W.W who were seeking better working conditions and higher wages Women were agitating for the right to vote Then along came the Influenza Pandemic of 1918, causing people to fear their fellow human beings in a new way.In The Last Town on Earth, one small mill town in Washington has not yet been infected by the flu They decide to implement a sort of reverse quarantine They post round the clock guards to prevent outsiders from entering the town and potentially bringing the flu in with them The story effectively shows the ways in which fear, mistrust, and misinformation can divide and destroy communities and families.I especially enjoyed the fact that the story takes place in my neck of the woods I live right here in Everett, and didn t know about the Everett Massacre of 1916 I also learned quite a bit about what the social and political climate was like nationwide during this time period.I recommend reading the Author s Note at the back of the book prior to reading the story I wished I had done so, as it provides a lot of context and historical background It really should have been a preface. This book is intense The story deals with a mill town in Washington state during WWI Charles Worthy created the town and hopes to run it and his lumber mill in a utopian way, with better working conditions for the men and better living conditions for their families It is a social experiment and a dream for everyone, and seems to be working.Until the Spanish flu pandemic arrives in the nearby town of Timber Falls What will Charles do to protect his dream from the deadly flu How will the decisions he makes affect his adopted son Philip, the various workmen we get to know, and the town itself Mostly the story is told through Philip s eyes, but we meet many characters, each with their own unusual backgrounds which determine how they personally react to events which are soon spiraling out of everyone s control.This is not an easy book to read It is dark, dramatic, full of nearly constant tension But at the same time it is easy to feel that you are living in Commonwealth And trust me, if anyone in your house sneezes or coughs while you are immersed in this book, you will not be able to keep yourself from getting just a little paranoid about germs The people of the town faced many issues relevant to their times, but it would take just a tweak or two here and there to have nearly every issue they faced happening in our own times Human nature being what it is, and patriotism being twisted into what it shouldn t be, all we need is an outbreak of some deadly contagious disease and we will be right back in 1918 Another reason for being a little paranoid. After reading Mullen s second book, The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers for review and finding it less than notable I thought I should read Mullen s debut novel which received such favorable reviews It far surpasses his second effort The characters are finely drawn, the setting superbly described, and a number of social issues aptly addressed with a clear application of good historical research.Mullen deftly weaves the strands of World War One, the Spanish Influenza epidemic, ahd the American labor movement into a taut novel of historical fiction. An interesting premise what if a logging town sealed itself off during a flu pandemic with nothing but sappy, contrived dialog and one dimensional characters to keep itself and you the reader entertained A predictable result grisly descriptions of suffering from the flu pale only in comparison to the pain you will feel from reading the dull and smarmy musings of the panicky townfolk wrestling with weighty moral issues in the face of widespread sickness and paranoia.Some actual dialog follows Oh my God, I said, or whispered, or thought, or moaned I stood up, stepped forward, and vomited, resting my hands against the wall as I spat everything up I closed my eyes and tried to will away the savage butchery that surrounded me Coughing and choking on whatever was left inside me, I tried to steady myself, tried to think Actually, if you replace savage butchery in this passage with crappy writing it pretty well captures how you will feel after reading this book.Warning shocking plot stealer coming..rugged, tough guy logger haunted by personal tragedy not so emotionally tough as he seems but plucky, crippled orphan shows compassion and resilience despite insurmountable odds and high fever In the end, you can t hide from your own feelings or from your own gun wielding, infected neighbors Boo hoo hoo The upside in this story is that Tiny Tim gets to bust a cap in the ass of the right wing interlopers Huzzah Seriously, if you re flying through turbulence on a long flight and your options are this book or SkyMall magazine, this is a marginally better choice But it has to be a long flight because it takesthan an hour to get used to the lousy writing or dim bulb characters in this awful book It s also a good idea to read this on the plane because you will have an air sickness bag handy. I was very interested in this historical fiction with an apocalyptic premise The story presented a small town worried about big world issues Two things irked me about it though The first was the cover to cover loading of praise from national publications saying how great the book was Very few books can live up to unanimous industry praise and this was one that could not There is nothing wrong with the story or the writing but there is nothing spectacular about it either That makes me give even less credence to national reviews than I did previously The second thing that bothered me was the title, which gives a very distinct feeling that the book will be apocalyptic in nature In actuality, it wasn t at all A town does get the spanish flu but the author never spends even one paragraph talking about the possibility of entire towns or the entire world being void of people The result is that the apocalyptic premise is just a tease, one that felt intentional in order to tap into a market the book wouldn t have otherwise reached This is the same as giving a WWII book the title Battlestar Gallactica or a cookbook the title The Grapes of Wrath. This book has a lot going for it a very dramatic time the influenza epidemic of 1918 , a very dramatic premise a town that tries to fend off sickness by isolating itself , and if possible evendramatic situations as the story progresses what happens when two different strangers try to enter the self quarantined town So I should have loved it And I really wanted to But somehow, I didn t, and it was kind of an effort to finish But it was our book group s selection last month, so I did finish, and the discussion it prompted was indeed lively Near the end of the evening, however, someone noted that the end of the story leaves the future wide open for the main character, and wondered if a sequel might be in the works Then someone else piped up and said, But I don t think Phillip is really interesting enough for a sequel And I think that summed up my hesitations about the book overall while the situations are very interesting, the characters aren t nearly as compelling The actions of the main character a 16 year old boy forced to act and react in a very touchy life or death situation, not once but twice do drive the story, as they shouldbut he s not really a very unique or compelling presence beyond the situations he s thrust into And I think that kind of killed it for me Despite appreciating much of what I read here, I couldn t help coming away a bit disappointed. This was suggested for our library book groups by the County Health Department If a book group chose to read this, the department would contribute the books, and send a pandemic health department expert to the group We chose this for our November read Jessica, our pandemic expert, was excited about this opportunity to work with the library, and the greater visibility the department could gain by partnering with the library She d heard the author on NPR, and started planning from there We readers enjoyed the background history we learned, not only about the flu epidemic, but about the unions, the Wobblies, feminists, and their influence in the Pacific Northwest As a group, we felt the characters and plot failed to live up to the subject It s unusual for us all to share the same opinion, to be fair our numbers were small just before the Thanksgiving holiday I tend to enjoy a plot that is driven by interesting characters This seemedto us like the author had a plot in mind, and created characters to fill those rolesnot so believable to us One person summed it up, that it seemed to be written with the movie in mind She already knew the actors Tommy Lee Jones for the town s leader, Jude Law for Graham, the stiff upper lipped young man just trying to protect his family I was a little annoyed at the implication that an attempt to create a utopia was doomed due to human nature Another felt the book started out well, but then got too simplistic One of the first things Jessica told us is that this story is a good illustration that quarantines don t work I d been wondering about the effectiveness of the masks Wouldn t a sick person contaminating the outside of a healthy person s mask still manage to spread the disease Just so It would beeffective to have sick people wear the masks The 1918 flu epidemic was what they would call a category 5 flu The world hasn t seen such a flu since There were some global pandemics in the 50s and 60s, but not like this Recently it was discovered that this flu did indeed come from a bird They got samples from bodies frozen in the permafrost The bird flu existing now is difficult to pass from person to person, but a few cases have As to whether there will be a bird flu that is easily passedit s a crap shoot Jessica told us plans would trigger if anywhere in the world a confirmed cluster of a new flu has a certain fatality ratio Plans can t include a vaccine really, because we can t predict the strain of a pandemic Part of the problem in 1918, the US government so controlled the media that communities couldn t learn needed details about what worked in other communities We learned that in our county, the community mitigation strategies for a category 5 pandemic come from the best practices that cities and towns took in 1918 Portland happened to utilize these, and didn t fare quite so badly These practices are multiple social distancing strategies cancelling school classes for up to 3 months urging businesses to stagger shifts so less people are working at one time if an individual is sick, urging families to stay home voluntarily.Challenges faced in a pandemic Jessica said, The closing of the schools teens get antsy spoiler alert..that s not too far off for the failure of the quarantine in the book Also, the global nature of businesses If the health department seeks cooperation in the closing of the local mall, they may have to call owners in China Jessica was clear that our county doesn t have the authority to enforce martial law, nor did it seem she wished for it She emphasized that within the department they work towards consensus Her overall message seemed to be that best practices involved cooperation, not authoritarianism. Historically, this was a very interesting book A fictional milling town in Washington State quarantines itself in an attempt to keep out the influenza of 1918 After the first few chapters, however, I did wonder whether the book was worth my time because of the poor writing The author often stopped the action to describe in detail the physical appearance of every single insignificant character There were too many characters, by the way, that were introduced for no apparent reason The author also used the omniscient point of view which, unless employed by the most skilled writer, is usually a distraction and weakens the characters This was the case with this book However, I decided to persist if only to gleam some information about the Spanish flu for the novel I m trying to write I did eventually become interested in some of the characters and the historical information was fascinating. Working in a cube farm, I dread the cold flu season because you re surrounded by hacking, sneezing, phlegm filled germ factories who insist on coming to work and spreading their misery because they don t want to burn their sick days on just a cold I ve often thought that we should set up some kind of quarantine zone in the building and make any of the infected go there and work so that the rest of us may be spared After reading The Last Town on Earth, I m torn between thinking that it s a bad idea or that we should post armed guards to keep the sickies out of the break room.Thomas Mullen took the 1918 flu epidemic that killed millions and has built a fictional story about one town s response to the threat Commonwealth is a logging town built by a man who turned his back on his rich and ruthless family to start a mill where he could prove that workers could be treated decently and still turn a profit He and his wife, a political activist for women s and workers rights, have helped build a community in the woods that has attracted many loggers who have been the victims of unfair labor practices and violent strike breakers Commonwealth is just starting to run in the black, mainly due to the increase in lumber demand from the government after the U.S entry into World War I.However, when the deadly flu breaks out in neighboring towns, the leaders and citizens of Commonwealth decide that they ll quarantine themselves since no one is sick and they re already isolated Anyone can leave, but no one will be allowed to enter until the flu has run its course Armed guards are posted to prevent anyone from entering the town It s seems like a simple and straight forward plan, but when a starving soldier comes out the woods and wants to enter, it starts a series of events that will begin to tear the town apart Commonwealth will also have to contend with a patriotic group from a neighboring town who are suspicious of the socialist enclave in the woods and want to break their quarantine to make sure that there are no draft dodgers or spies hiding there.This was an original and intriguing idea for a book, and it s got a rich historical backdrop with the characters contending not only with the flu, but the labor movement of the era along with the political and social issues associated with both the pro and anti war movements I also learned some chilling things about the U.S during this time For example, the government basically outlawed any dissent or forms of protest against the war As he did with The Great Depression in The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers, Mullen makes the day to day life of a bygone era really come alive His style is deceptively plain, but he still manages to make the characters complex I didn t like this one quite as much as Firefly Brothers, but still a really interesting story. Set Against The Backdrop Of One Of The Most Virulent Epidemics That America Ever Experienced TheFlu Epidemic Thomas Mullen S Powerful, Sweeping First Novel Is A Tale Of Morality In A Time Of UpheavalDeep In The Mist Shrouded Forests Of The Pacific Northwest Is A Small Mill Town Called Commonwealth, Conceived As A Haven For Workers Weary Of Exploitation For Philip Worthy, The Adopted Son Of The Town S Founder, It Is A Haven In Another Sense As The First Place In His Life He S Had A Loving Family To Call His OwnAnd Yet, The Ideals That Define This Outpost Are Being Threatened From All Sides A World War Is Raging, And With The Fear Of Spies Rampant, The Loyalty Of All Americans Is Coming Under Scrutiny Meanwhile, Another Shadow Has Fallen Across The Region In The Form Of A Deadly Illness Striking Down Vast Swaths Of Surrounding CommunitiesWhen Commonwealth Votes To Quarantine Itself Against Contagion, Guards Are Posted At The Single Road Leading In And Out Of Town, And Philip Worthy Is Among Them He Will Be Unlucky Enough To Be On Duty When A Cold, Hungry, Tired And Apparently Ill Soldier Presents Himself At The Town S Doorstep Begging For Sanctuary The Encounter That Ensues, And The Shots That Are Fired, Will Have Deafening Reverberations Throughout Commonwealth, Escalating Until Every Human Value Love, Patriotism, Community, Family, Friendship Not To Mention The Town S Very Survival, Is ImperiledInspired By A Little Known Historical Footnote Regarding Towns That Quarantined Themselves During TheEpidemic, The Last Town On Earth Is A Remarkably Moving And Accomplished Debut From The Hardcover Edition

Thomas Mullen is the author of Darktown, an NPR Best Book of the Year, which has been shortlisted for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Southern Book Prize, the Indies Choice Book Award, has been nominated for two Crime Writers Assocation Dagger Awards, and is being developed for television by Sony Pictures with executive producer Jamie Foxx The Last Town on Earth, which was named Best Debut

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  • Paperback
  • 432 pages
  • The Last Town on Earth
  • Thomas Mullen
  • English
  • 17 August 2019
  • 9780812975925

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