[Full disclosure: I was appraoched by the author and provided a free electronic version of the book to review]
Liz Worth’s Post-Apoc takes place some unspecified time after an unspecified event (or series of events) referred to as ‘The End’. Canada (if not the whole world) is torn, society has fallen, and most if not all adults have disappeared. This leaves the cities populated by teenagers and youths who spend their days coping with the confusion and tragedy by taking vast quantities of alcohol and drugs and going to punk shows. We follow Ang as she wanders around the city, goes to shows and slowly degrades to an emaciated wreck, physically and mentally destroyed. Post-Apoc shuns the fire or ice of the commonly considered apocalypse in favor of a slow, drawn out end of the world and the confusion and ennui that would reign in such a time. At the fore front of the novel lives the inevitable return to basic impulses and horrifyingly banality that would ensue in such an environment.
Worth’s prose is imaginative but uneven. Ornate descriptions and turns of language are employed simply for their own sake and without much thought. This style is not bad in itself but becomes tiresome after a while and hardly manages to pull the weight of the whole book. There are certainly a few moments where the prose shines, such as in the line “The sun’s been stuck on sunset all day, but we’re sweating.” Which works well to juxtapose the evocative environment with the sense of oppression which runs through the work.
The characters are fairly dulled down (which is not necessarily a criticism in such a torn world) but there are also a lot of them and they never seem to stand apart from one another. The main character Ang is for the most part a non-entity, floating around, taking drugs, trying to figure out ways to stay alive. Together Ang and her girlfriends are portrayed as embattled survivors while the few male characters are uniformly out to use and destroy the girls. At least a little bit of nuance here would have made the interactions between characters more believable. The environment is gritty but I never got the feeling that Worth had created a ‘world’. This in part could be due to the isolation inherent in a technologically cut off world, and a world where survival takes priority over exploration and connection, but at least some sense of the state of the outside world would have done well to flesh out the atmosphere.
Much of Post-Apoc follows the characters’ hunt for the mythical drug ‘greyline’ a classic fictional drug, rumored to be ‘…made from the shake of magic mushrooms and the ashes of the dead. That crematoriums have been pillaged to make it.’ It serves well to distract the characters from the horror of their lives, and it becomes evident that the drug is not only addictive but very destructive. Worth does a very nice job drawing out the drug’s insidious damage, where no single dose can be related to the failure of the character’s bodies and yet the incidence of strange illnesses and possible hallucinations become increasingly frequent and increasingly more terrifying.
The self-conscious confusion and existential agony of living as a teenager (even in an unravaged society) is well portrayed here, almost to the point of fetishization. The characters are as lost as any other suburban teens and deal with it as well as they can. There is no hopeful looking toward the future, no hope for escape, no working toward a glorious resolution, an attitude which those of us who have lived through the ages of thirteen and nineteen will immediately find terribly familiar.
Honestly for a good part of the book I found the events (or lack thereof) to be mostly forgettable and found myself apathetic to the work. Towards its last quarter the main drive of Post-Apoc seemed to shift from the packed-in linguistic turns and descriptions of inebriation to a more solid and imminent series of events and I found myself pulled in, and then the book ended on a fairly flat note. A particularly harrowing scene where a strange semi-human monster girl silently takes up residence in the living room of Ang’s squat, passively pushing Ang and her housemates into smaller and smaller areas of the house, was reminiscent of Julio Cortazar’s House Taken Over and played the line nicely between horror and confusion, aggression and exhaustion. Probably to its detriment Post-Apoc as a whole shared quite a few traits with Grace Krilanovich’s Orange Eats Creeps and I found it hard not to compare the two books as I was reading.
Overall Post-Apoc is a readable novel which could appeal strongly to the post Hunger Games crowd. There is very little which is compelling or new here, but it holds a heartfelt and sad allegory of the pain of adolescence and the self-defeating means employed to assuage them.