Dear Mr. Johnson, Please end the world more quickly in your next book.
It was the playwright that got to me. I was already thinking that I haven't laughed out loud at a book this much since The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy . Does telling you about the playwright ruin where Adam Johnson's awe-inspiring book might be heading? You really do have to read this book to understand the gravity and power of the story Mr. Johnson weaves. So what if you know ahead of time that a playwright dies on page 272? Read it anyway because this book is brilliant, and I'm not so sure that "brilliant" is a big enough word to encompass the majesty of this prose. Wondering what happened to a friend you haven't seen in ten years, imagining their outcome, a scenario they might have found themselves in based on what you know of the person they were, is, in its own right, a form of anthropology. Read this book.
Adam Johnson's writing must have made a massive leap forward to win the Pulitzer prize for 'The Orphan Masters Son' as this turned out to be a bit of a disjointed mess.
But the writing and especially the dialogue are suitable for only a Sci-Fi Network TV-Movie.
"After trashing his cherry '72 Corvette, illegally breaking into an ancient burial site, and snacking on 12,000-year-old popcorn, Hank Hannah finds that he's inadvertently unleashed the apocalypse," begins the blurb on the back cover of Adam Johnson's debut novel, last year's Parasites Like Us. Sounds pretty interesting, doesn't it? I'm certain that the reason it was used was to fish something interesting enough out of the mess of a plot to trick people like me into buying the book, but if such tactics need to be employed to sell a novel, perhaps it doesn't belong on the shelves in the first place. But as boring as the plot turned out to be (and as disappointing as the Apocalypse turned out to be), the most painful aspect of the story had to be the characters--especially the protagonist, Anthropology professor, Hank Hannah. An Oedipal Complex of frightening proportions surfaces in Hank, but it is not done with a keen and sarcastic eye (as most authors would do so, distancing themselves from the freak of a character and letting us know that this sort of obsession is, in fact, weird), leading me to believe that Johnson, too, suffers from a weird psychosexual tie to his own maternal figures.
This is the best end-of-the-world novel I've ever read.
It feels like there was so much build up and then it ended so quickly, like the author ran over a deadline and had to wrap it up.
Hank Hannah, the protagonist, is a paleoanthropologist who studies the Clovis people, the progenitors of Native Americans, those people who came over to America at the end of the last Ice Age and subsequently wiped out huge swaths of mammalian life of the time. Hannah argues that the Clovis were essentially parasites who took more than they needed and left the world less diverse and interesting for it. Another idea that I found particularly compelling is Hannah's reflection on survival: "The more you learned about life, the more it seemed an engine of little design, and to survive its queer lottery was what we called living. And on the subject of the afterlife, Hank asks his father, after the rest of humanity (aside from the two of them and about 10 others that they've found thus far) has been destroyed, if he believes in an afterlife. His father's answer is this: "Well, if afterlife means to keep living on after life is over, don't you think that's us? Finally, Hank, in his narration of this tale of the (near) end of humanity for later generations, includes his own personal philosophy: "I have come to believe, after a life of research and personal observation, that there are two fallacies to being human, one great paradox, and three crimes. Hank says, "the first is that people invariably believe they live in times of great change and significance.
Johnson is currently a San Francisco writer and associate professor in creative writing at Stanford University.