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The Pesthouse

A Novel
Crace, Jim (Book - 2007 )
Average Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
The Pesthouse
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"In The Pesthouse Jim Crace imagines an America of the future where a man and a woman trek across a devastated and dangerous landscape, finding strength in each other and an unexpected love." "Once the safest, most prosperous place on earth, the United States is now a lawless, scantly populated wasteland. The machines have stopped. The government has collapsed. Farmlands lie fallow and the soil is contaminated by toxins. Across the country, families have packed up their belongings to travel eastward toward the one hope left: passage on a ship to Europe." "Franklin Lopez and his brother, Jackson, are only days away from the ocean when Franklin, nearly crippled by an inflamed knee, is forced to stop. In the woods near his temporary refuge, Franklin comes upon an isolated stone building. Inside he finds Margaret, a woman with a deadly infection and confined to the Pesthouse to sweat out her fever. Tentatively, the two join forces and make their way through the ruins of old America. Confronted by bandits rounding up men for slavery, finding refuge in the Ark, a religious community that makes bizarre demands on those they shelter, Franklin and Margaret find their wariness of each other replaced by deep trust and an intimacy neither one has ever experienced before."--BOOK JACKET.
Authors: Crace, Jim
Title: The pesthouse
a novel
Publisher: New York : Nan A. Talese, c2007
Edition: 1st ed
Characteristics: 255 p. ;,25 cm
Statement of Responsibility: Jim Crace
Alternate Title: Pest house
ISBN: 9780385520751
0385520751
Branch Call Number: FICTION CRACE
Genre/Form: Dystopias
LCCN: 2006026555
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"Once the safest, most prosperous place on earth, the United States is now a lawless, scantly populated wasteland. The machines have stopped. The government has collapsed. Farmlands lie fallow and the soil is contaminated by toxins. Across the country, families have packed up their belongin... Read More »

Once the safest, most prosperous place on earth, the United States is now a lawless, scantly populated wasteland. Across the country, families have packed up their belongings to travel eastward toward the one hope left: passage on a ship to Europe.

In a futuristic American wasteland, an injured Franklin Lopez joins forces with Margaret, a woman suffering from a deadly infection and confined to the Pesthouse, as the two discover that their dreams of a safe future mean following an unexpected path.

The author imagines an America of the future where a man and a woman trek across a devastated and dangerous landscape, finding strength in each other and an unexpected love. Once the safest, most prosperous place on earth, the United States is now a lawless, scantly populated wasteland.

Once the safest, most prosperous place on earth, the United States is now a lawless, scantly populated wasteland. Across the country, families have packed up their belongings to travel eastward toward the one hope left: passage on a ship to Europe.


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Jul 18, 2013
  • the17pointscale rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

This book is not THE ROAD. I wish it were THE ROAD. That's what I kept finding myself thinking as I read THE PESTHOUSE--this would be better if it were THE ROAD. At one point I even said to one of the characters, "If you'd read THE ROAD, you would know that you should be a bit more careful here." And then later, "See! I told you."

The thing is, everything about THE PESTHOUSE is good, maybe even great, but it somehow lacks the economy of language and the gray terror and desperation of Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize winner.

Clearly, there's no reason THE PESTHOUSE should have aspired to just those traits, no reason it should have tried to be THE ROAD. Both novels play with history, never revealing how exactly the characters came to these roads or why they think the coast is the place with the most. And both novels use crazy archaic words--here we have "swarf," tetherings," "susurrus"--but perhaps where I appreciate THE PESTHOUSE the most is where it diverged, where it went surprisingly direct (see the opening sentence: "Everybody died at night") or playful (a passage about apple juice and a coat that acts as a homing beacon, for example) or listy ("But there are always some awake in the small times of the morning—the lovemakers, for instance, the night workers, the ones with stone-hard beds or aching backs, the ones with nagging consciences or bladders, the sick") or sociological (Crace seems most interested in creating and then fleshing out little worlds within his apocalypse--the capitalist ferrytowners, the antimetal zealots, the sex-selling survivalist outpost of widows). Oh, and there's a love story (not sure what I thought about that).

But one more way in which my reading experience of THE PESTHOUSE resembled (though in a flawed way) my reading of THE ROAD: McCarthy loads his novel with all kinds of biblical imagery and language. It's even possible to read THE ROAD as an incarnation story--a loving, self-sacrificing boy is born into a time of great darkness. To some degree at least, I think McCarthy planned this. Not so with THE PESTHOUSE. Still, if one edits an interview with the philosopher Richard Kearney while reading this novel (for THE OTHER JOURNAL--you should subscribe!), as I happened to do, then one can't help but see theological implications written all over everything.

In the interview, Kearney articulates the coming of the Messiah in a way that I hadn't heard before. He talks about the passage in Matthew where Jesus basically says that any time we help someone in need, he is there. Kearney says that every time a person offers such an invitation or gift to the stranger, the Messiah becomes present. The incarnation is happening again and again, he says. And strangely enough, THE PESTHOUSE, a book that in some ways makes a mockery of organized religion, is all about these kinds of encounters between strangers. Sometimes the strangers do little things to help one another, sometimes they simply avoid one another, and sometimes they do evil to such strangers (a kind of Sodom and Gomorrah, if you will). Elsewhere in that interview, Kearney considers whether the Messiah was present at the time and place of one of our world's greatest atrocities, Auschwitz, but here in THE PESTHOUSE we get to ponder whether the Messiah is present at the apocalypse.

PS This is a strange review! Whoohoo!

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