Review: “The End of the World as We Knew It”, by Nick Cole

Nick Cole gets it.

Superversive, I mean. He gets it. What it means. How to write it. Every single book of his I’ve read, even the poorer ones, have had at least one moment that pulled me out for a second and made me say “Wow”. And I mean wow as in, “I suddenly got the impression that my world was a little bit brighter and better than it was before”.

Like, his book “The Dark Knight”? I think it was a good book, not great. Except, there this one moment at the end…when one character is caught between saving a library that is essentially the last repository of mankind’s knowledge or saving a 19 year old mentally challenged man…where I just sort of stopped reading for a moment and said “Wow.”

Just, “Wow.”

And “Wow” is sort of “The End of the World as We Knew It” in a nutshell. The book is a little bit like “World War Z” if it were hyperfocused on two characters. The world has ended, and fiancees Alex and Jason – no last names given – are on the opposite sides of the country. When the apocalypse hits, both cheat on each other. Alex is a drunk. She has contributed nothing to her life and knows it, and the thought of Jason, who loves her whatever her flaws, is the only thing that keeps her moving in the apocalypse.

Jason is a rich stockbroker who makes his money by climbing on other people’s backs; he wonders aloud more than once how many people he exploited for his riches. When the apocalypse hits, he cheats on Alex, assuming her dead. After making it out of his office building he takes a train down with the military to California, almost as a sort of penance, in an attempt to find Alex.

Unusually, Alex is much more likable than Jason – this is probably because she seems genuinely repentant and is constantly hoping and praying to find Jason and beg forgiveness. Jason starts off almost dead to the world, but as the story goes on he realizes how much he truly loved Alex, and finding her becomes his mission in life. By the time the book ends Jason has grown much more likable, because he’s thought of someone outside of himself.

But really, that’s not why I’m even writing this. It’s for those “Wow” moments. Like, at the end of Jason’s story, when he rescues a woman who is nearly killed by an explosive strike dropped on a massive zombie attack, to atone for not rescuing the woman he cheated on earlier, only to then see her get embraced by the man who loves her…

That was a “Wow” moment.

When Jason finds the body of a woman who is known only as the Lady, who he has been convinced all along is Alex, but he discovers she’s not, and this prompts the revelation that love truly is stronger than death, or even the of the world as we knew it…

…Wow.

And then the biggest one of all. SPOILERS for the ending.

It is many years later, and Jason and Alex have both dropped out of history. Alex’s story ended with her stuck and surrounded by zombies; we don’t know that she died, but it didn’t look good. Jason’s story ended with him striking out into the North alone to find Alex, armed only with a compass tied around his neck.

The man who killed the last reported zombies from the Apocalypse shares his story from the nursing home: Expecting to find one zombie, there were, in fact, two- a man and a woman.

And…

“He loved her. He wouldn’t leave her,” sobs Cal.

“What happened next?” I prompt. “By the river that day. That last day of summer.” Then Cal remembers. “Can they love each other? Do you know that, boy? Do you know if they can do that?” I didn’t have an answer. Who could?

“The last one was the worst. He loved her. All those zombies, all those years, they’d become nothing more than animals, less than even, and the last of them turned on me in the end. I was glad they were the last. He loved her. He wouldn’t leave her,” he sobs over and over into his nurse.

But of course, that’s not the last thing we learn:

The last two zombies had no identification. Just some personal effects.

The yellowing paper of the official report reads: Female, one diamond ring, left ring finger. Male, one battered army compass, worn around the neck.

Wow.

Sorry, John C. Wright. Nick Cole may be the most superversive writer working in the field today.