Thursday, March 8, 2018

The City Where We Once Lived

The City Where We Once Lived by Eric Barnes
Arcade Publishing: 3/27/18
eBook review copy; 244 pages
ISBN-13: 9781628728835

The City Where We Once Lived by Eric Barnes is a highly recommended look at a dying city that is part dystopian and part premonition.

Our unnamed narrator is living in the North End of an unnamed city during an unnamed time. Many years ago the North End was abandoned and left to decay, while the population and resources went to the South End. There is a small population in the North End, a few thousand, spread out across many miles. They think that something in the ground is killing them because there are no mice or rats or cats or dogs or roaches. All the trees and plants are dead too. Extreme weather hits both North and South, but help is provided only for the South. Levees are breaking and flooding is increasing. The death of things is spreading.

The small population stays in the North End, for reasons of their own, amid the decay. Our narrator is staying in the city to escape his past. He is the writer for the local paper, the only writer, and he photographs and records the indicators of the ensuing decline that will eventually mark the end of the North End. He burns down abandoned houses at night to alleviate his inner pain. The city commission doesn't care about what happens to them and most want to force them out of the North End. The water and electricity have been left on (although they are constantly threatened to be turned off by the commission), which allows the small population to stay there with a degree of comfort. They have set up a community, of sorts, with garbage collection and corner shops, and live there quietly. Scavengers clear remaining buildings of raw materials.

There is also an increase of strangers coming to the North End. Some are simply trying to hide or escape the South and want to live quiet anonymous lives, but some are feckless teenagers, looking for trouble and violence. Soon, as it becomes clear that the people living in the North End must respond in some way to the strangers. The questions are: What is a community? What is your capacity for violence? What is your capacity for compassion? What is the right response?

The City Where We Once Lived is extremely well written and Barnes keeps the same heavy tone throughout the novel. It is a slow moving, relentlessly desolate, bleak novel that offers little impetus to keep following our unnamed narrator who seems captive to a existence full of depression and despondency. The second half of the book is better than the first, but the first sets the dreary, hopeless, aimless tone to the novel and captures the idea of living in a decaying no-man's-land with other unnamed survivors in a loosely organized community of sorts. The second half, although still much in keeping with the tone of the first part, does have a bit more plot to it and continues to reach a conclusion that offers a slight, meager sliver of something close to hope. It also gives us some insight into our unnamed narrator and why he felt the need to distance himself from society. (This was a hard one for me to rate. perhaps a 4.5 but...)

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Arcade Publishing.

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