Sunday, October 16, 2011

After the Fall by Robin Summers

Publisher:            Bold Strokes Books

Taylor Stone is trying to survive in a world that has been devastated by a plague.  Though it's never clear exactly what the plague was, it's killed millions of people around the world, more women than men.  Keep moving, don't get involved has become Taylor's mantra as she struggles to get to her family in Indiana to see if any of them survived.  Then she comes to Burninghead Farm.  She finds a community of survivors who   through ingenuity and will-power have built a self-sustaining camp and they invite Taylor to join them.  Her intention is to only spend a few days while she strengthens herself for the rest of the trip.  She doesn't need friends and she doesn't want friends, but the people in the community have a way of working themselves into her emotions.  That's especially true of Kate.  Kate reignites Taylor's interest in life.  She shows the potential for new hope and love, but Taylor doesn't find that as appealing as might be thought.  Taylor has done things she's not proud of and she feels they make her unworthy of Kate's love.  Kate could heal Taylor's soul, but Taylor isn't sure she can have that.  She needs to find out what has happened to her family.  That need may destroy Taylor's chance to create a new life.

Summers knows what the focus of her story is.  She doesn't dwell on what caused the catastrophe because the message is clear that it doesn't matter how mankind failed.  What matters is that it did.  This book is about survival and what comes after the destruction.  It's not an odyssey either.  Unlike many similar stories, the reader will not follow Taylor through the situations she encounters before she arrives at Burninghead Farm.  Just enough of that is revealed to know that life hasn't been easy and that Taylor's soul has been scarred.  What matters is the time that Taylor spends on the farm and the way it transforms her.

Taylor and Burninghead Farm provide an interesting contrast.  Because of her experiences, Taylor is cynical and jaded.  She trusts no one because she knows even people who seem friendly are probably waiting for a chance to take advantage of you.  The farm is comparable to an experiment in utopianism.  Things are almost too perfect in that the people work together peacefully with no disharmony.  The only malcontents are expelled soon after Taylor arrives and though they reappear later, they're unimportant to most of the story.  The people live by a common set of rules that appeal to everyone.  It would be interesting to see how this community was established in the first place and able to achieve what they had, but again, what is important is that it exists.  Taylor and the farm represent the battle between despair and hope.  Taylor will come to realize that, contrary to what she says, she's just as invested in the farm's success as the people who have been there all along.  With all of the discussion about whether or not the world is about to come to an end, one can only hope that there is a Burninghead Farm out there for when it happens.

After the Fall is easy to read and tells a compelling story.  Summers alternates third person chapters with those written in first person so that the reader is always aware of what is going on in Taylor's head and can follow her transformation.  It makes a very interesting debut novel for Robin Summers; one worth reading.

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