Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Last Town on Earth

I was rather expecting something a bit different after reading descriptions of Thomas Mullen's debut novel, The Last Town on Earth. Published by Random house in 2006, it is 387 pages long, with a few extra notes at the end. The Last Town on Earth is set in 1918 in the state of Washington. Due to the epidemic of Spanish influenza raging across the country, the newly conceived utopian logging town of Commonwealth has imposed a self quarantine of the town from the surrounding communities. They closed off the road leading into town by felling a log across it and post guards. A weary soldier is shot as he refuses to heed the warnings and tries to make his way into town. These two events help set into motion many of the novels events. This, however, is really not a historical novel about the 1918 influenza epidemic.

Actually, I found many of the unconventional historical premises of this novel less than completely plausible. There were many socialists in Washington, apparently, at the turn of the century and Mullens does tie in labor disputes, the Everett Massacre, and the rise of the Wobblies into the story. However, It really comes across as a bit more of a preachy 2006 novel rather than a tale set in 1918. Even with anti war sentiments at the turn of the century, there were many more supporters and men who proudly served, like my grandfather. At times this book feels too much as if Mullens is trying to promote some personal agenda rather than tell a story. Also, this is a morality tale in many ways, not a story about surviving the flu epidemic. As Mullens says, "[T]he quarantine designed to block out the flu had only succeeded in cutting off the town from its previous ideals of right and wrong. It was a town in full eclipse..." Mullens is a young author and I would imagine his next book might hit the mark a bit more closely for me. It's not that this is a bad book; I simply would recommend others I've read before it.

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