Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Rending and the Nest

The Rending and the Nest by Kaethe Schwehn
Bloomsbury USA; 2/20/18
eBook review copy; 304 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9781632869722

The Rending and the Nest by Kaethe Schwehn is a recommended addition to the post-apocalyptic genre.

"It wasn’t fire or ice. Wasn’t a virus or global warming or a meteor. Wasn’t an atomic bomb or a tsunami or a sulfurous-smelling ape. It was a Rending, a split. Ninety-five percent of the earth’s population and the vast majority of the animals, food, and goods—gone. We were left with each other and the Piles. Later, the Babies. And we were left without an explanation."

Mira lives in a society/town named Zion that was made from the remnants, the scraps, of what was left after the Rendering. Four years after the end of the world as she knew it, Mira now sorts through the piles - literally piles of things left behind - searching for useful items. When Mira's friend Lana announces her pregnancy, it is a time of hope, but when Lana gives birth to an object, and other women follow suit, Mira decides to make nests for these Babies. This helps the mothers by giving the objects a safe resting place and simultaneously allowing them to release their attachment to the objects.  When an outsider called Michael appears in Zion, he changes the dynamics of the community and lures Lana away.

The Rending and the Nest almost begs for a reread, perhaps with a reader's guide, since there is more going on under the surface, or there could be more going on under the surface, than a quick read reveals. "Rending" itself is an odd word choice. It can mean to tear violently,  divide, pull apart, split, or to distress with painful feelings, but it is also pointed out in the book that the name shares a connection with the rending, or tearing, of the curtain in the temple at the moment Jesus died. The tearing symbolized, in part (and I'm not a Biblical scholar), that God had moved out of that physical dwelling and was through with that temple and its religious system. Perhaps this rending signifies a finality with the earth and what it was before, thus the people gone and the piles of stuff left scattered about. (And, okay, I may be stretching here looking for some significance, so we'll set this aside.)

What I can say is that the world created by Schwehn is interesting, but enigmatic. We never know what happened or why. And what we do know is puzzling at times. Certainly loved ones are missed. The community of Zion gives people some sense of purpose and belonging, but there is always this conundrum in the background, seeking the ultimate answer when none is given.

It is also beautifully written, for all its inscrutability. The plot, which is slow at first, picks up the pace after a third of the way through. The characters are basically well-developed, but broken in some way. The characters reflect the prismatic nature of humans, good and bad, challenging and comforting, open and closed-off. I liked parts of the novel ravenously, and other parts not-as-much. And, while reading, I kept getting this nagging feeling that I was missing something, that some clue or hint, or monumental reveal was just beyond my grasp.

So, I liked The Rending and the Nest, but I didn't love it. On the other hand I kept thinking I needed that reading guide to uncover what I was missing, because I was sure I was missing something. The novel felt like a puzzle to me and I was missing one vital piece... I need to reread this one someday

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Bloomsbury USA

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