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LitPicks Book Reviews—November 2014

Theme—End Tmes
Three remarkable books offer glimpses into end times: one
imagines the end of civilization; another looks at the end of life and the role of medicine; and a third considers...well, it's hard to say.
 

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Station Eleven
Emily St. John Mandel, 2014
352 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
November, 2014
If we were to lose everything, if our entire civilization were to collapse, what would you miss most? And what would you come to value most? This hypothetical is explored with vivid poignancy in Mandel's debut novel.

Twenty years after a virulent flu has wiped out most of humanity, a troupe of traveling actors and musicians carries their art to the sparsely populated "towns" of upper Michigan. They're willing to face hardships and danger because they hold fast to one paramont belief: "survival is insufficient"—a slogan from a long-ago Star Trek show painted on their horse-drawn pick-up trucks.

 

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Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
Autul Gawande, 2014
304 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
November, 2014
What a relief that someone like Atul Gawande, a physician, has written this book. In lucid, non-technical terms—and with a large measure of compassion—Gawande lays out how his profession fails us in our final days. Not surprisingly, the book has garnered a good deal of attention nationwide.

Ironically, Gawande tells us what we really already know: that before taking our last breath, we want control over the time left to us—we want to live out those remaining days, months, or years with a degree of independence. Yet independence requires a quality of service that nursing homes and physicians rarely provide. We can do better, he insists. And he sets out to show us how.

 

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10:04: A Novel
Ben Lerner, 2014
256 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
November, 2014
It's hard to tell where you stand in a Ben Lerner work, especially his newest—a dazzling and dizzying read.
  ♦ Is Lerner the first-person narrator? (Mostly...maybe.)
  ♦ Is this a work of fiction? (Yes. No... Yes.)
  ♦ Is the narrator/author/Ben Lerner going to die? (Who knows.)
  ♦ Is New York City going under water? (Yes and no.)
  ♦ Is the world ending? (Feels like it could...or should.)
  ♦ What's the time? (One of the book's big questions.)

If you're wondering what the book could possibly be about, you're hardly alone. Yet its mind-bending quality is what makes 10:04 so compelling—in turn hilarious, thought-provoking, and perplexing.

 

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