Too graphic. Too intense. Too scary. “I don’t even watch the news,” they said. Too sad. It’s some of what I heard from a small handful of readers after sending them an advanced copy of my novel, Beyond the Strandline.
The novel is set in a dystopian future following a collapse of the power grid after a solar storm. Shew! That’s a mouthful. Put it this way, it’s a future without running water or city halls. NOTE: I have to confess that it is a bit of a head rush to be able to write something that gives people the willies. I won’t lie.
It’s a story set in a future that looks more like the past . . . and the present in more than a few places around the globe.
Discussing the surprising feedback on the book, a friend of mine, remarked, “What are they reading?”
I’m not sure. But what I am sure of is that one of the purposes of fiction is being able to send a reader to places and to experience things unimaginable in everyday life. It’s a safe way to look into the ‘heart of darkness’ and process ways to survive, cope, or even thrive in a world that might be unrecognizable. Fiction is a window.
In the book, Tess and her family are surviving and thriving in isolation after the collapse of civilization, living off and on the land. Parrish, a young man who comes to live on their ranch, is a survivor of being forced to fight as a child soldier. The local mall has become a haven for slave traders and tyrants.
Presently, the single greatest health hazard facing the globe is a lack of access to clean water. Tess’s family deals with the problem in several ways. Would you know how to purify water not provided by electricity or the big water tank in the sky?
The United Nations estimates that up to a three hundred thousand children are routinely forced to fight in armed conflicts and wars around the world. Women and children impressed into armies and paramilitary groups are a sure sign that the fabric of a society has blown apart.
American gangs mimic military organizations in a lot of respects. Seventy-five percent of members of gangs are under the age of eighteen. Child soldiers are already here.
The United Nations estimates that slavery has never been practiced in greater numbers in the history of the world. The slave traders are here.
Europe is dealing with the sight of dead babies washed up on beaches as Middle Eastern refugees flee to Europe to escape the gory truth of what is happening to their civilizations.
Survival is being able to have a positive mental attitude in the face of a potentially horrifying reality.
Reading fiction can be a dry run—an exercise if you will—before the big . . . challenge.