Earth Abides is not an entertaining book. It is not perfect. It is a tad long-winded at some points, sometimes decidedly dated feeling, and has a serious lack of everything that generally entertains me. It is, at it's base, a look at the post-apocalyptic world through one man's eyes. It was first published in 1949, and according to Goodreads, currently has 55 editions. It is considered a sci-fi book, but there's nothing science fiction about the book. A disease hits, wipes out most of the world's population, and the few that survive are left to pick up the pieces. That's it. But that's not all there is to it. A lot happens, but it's over the life of one man. There's no grand battles, no good versus evil in the ruins of the old world, just the quiet puttering of one of the last embers of humanity as it strives to not die out completely. And yet it won't let you alone until you finish it.
I think this book had to have made some waves when people first started reading in. Published in 1949 and it features an interracial union and espouses a life better without God in it? Yowzers.
I frequently disliked the main character. Isherwood Williams is the type of man that - while I might admire his mind - I would frequently want to thump. He's full of himself. He's so cynical about the 'simplicity' of the people around him. And, of course, he's completely human, and there's the rub. We look for a 'hero' in these types of books. Ish is no hero. He's someone who had the 'luck' to survive the end of the world, and now he's got to live in it. But the world changes - doesn't it always? And Ish isn't a King of old. He's just the head of his Tribe.
Earth Abides feels timeless. I have read many post-apocalyptic books, and they've grown tiresome. I approached this book with some caution, because I was afraid of more of the same drivel that is wonderful the first few times you read it, and then swiftly approaches "Been there done that" with disturbing ease. I didn't want to dislike this book because I was bone-weary of the sub-genre. Thankfully, that wasn't the case. Because, I honestly don't believe, for all the post-apocalyptic books I've read, that I've ever read a novel like Earth Abides. It also feels the most real. This is how the world goes on; earth abides while humanity fumbles along.
I won't deny that the main reason I'm making the connection between the two is because I just recently read it, but I could not help but think of McCammon's Boy's Life when I finished Earth Abides. I am not someone who self-describes as liking 'literary fiction'. I'm happy with my genre jollies, thankyouverymuch. I'll admit to even wrinkling my nose at the idea of reading 'literature'. However, I think both Earth Abides and Boy's Life are perfect examples of books that show the appeal of that type of book. They're not 600 pages long and packed with five dollar words, yet they don't fit into any particular genre, and they make you think far more than they entertain you.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes:
“If there is a God who made us and we did wrong before His eyes—as George says—at least we did wrong only because we were as God made us, and I do not think that He should set traps. Oh, you should know better than George! Let us not bring all that back into the world again—the angry God, the mean God—the one who does not tell us the rules of the game, and then strikes us when we break them. Let us not bring Him back.”
“Man has been growing more stupid for several thousand years; I myself shall waste no tears at his demise.”
“During ten thousand years his numbers have been on the upgrade in spite of wars, pestilences, and famines. This increase in population has become more and more rapid. Biologically, man has for too long a time been rolling an uninterrupted run of sevens.”
Earth Abides really does deserve it's spot on the "Must Read" list folks. Its hard to talk about but easy to read. You'll need some quiet to be able to really appreciate it. Take as long as you need to take with it. I actually walked away from it for a week or so because I have an attention span the length of a gnat, but was drawn back to it, and able to pick up right where I left off.