In “Far North,” a Chilling Look at a Dystopian Future

It seems to be part of the human condition that, along with wondering about our own mortality, we inevitably think about the end of the world, or the end of time, as well. When will it come? What will it look like? What will be left? Who will be to blame?

Vivid explorations of these questions, whether in movies or in books, have existed for years and continue to fascinate. Most, if not all, of these types of stories could be described as “dystopian,” and Marcel Theroux’s 2009 novel, Far North, is no different in that sense. However, he does approach these questions from a unique angle.

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Set in Siberia, we find one single, solitary survivor living in what was formerly a city settled by Quakers. The survivor, named “Makepeace,” is the sheriff of this place, and continues to patrol it, despite no one else living there. Makepeace’s parents, along with other Quakers and peace-seeking people, had left the modern world behind years ago, and moved as a group to this isolated land in Siberia, where they went about setting up a new kind of society.

This worked well for some time, and Makepeace, having known no other way of living or being, might never have known the violent, materialistic world outside had it not come knocking at their door. But knock it did, as people in more modern cities across the globe continued to consume more than they needed, driven to excess by greed and fear. The earth’s resources were plundered and disrespected, and the consequences were dire. When both crops and economies began to fail, hoards of desperate, hungry people traveled to settlements like this one, asking for help, for food, for protection. Before long, the settlement was overrun by the very problems of the modern world that they’d tried to escape.

There are indigenous tribes of people in the area, but Makepeace knows of no other existing communities. One day, however, an airplane flies overhead and crashes, sending the sheriff off into new lands in the hope of finding others who’ve also survived. We travel along on this cold, lonely journey, getting glimpses along the way of what could have been, had only societies thought longer-term and made better decisions.

We find the world described here by Theroux a hostile place, where little humanity remains in the people still there, and where they’re ultimately held accountable for their actions. A finalist for the National Book Award, Far North, because of its dark subject matter, isn’t exactly a light-hearted read, but it is a compelling one.

(Originally published here: http://msbusiness.com/2015/07/bookbiz-a-unique-chilling-vision-of-the-post-apocalyptic-world/)

“The World’s Largest Man” Delivers Laughs and Heart

Father’s Day may be behind us already this year, but that’s no reason not to let Harrison Scott Key entertain you with tales (some tall) about both his larger-than-life father and his Mississippi upbringing. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and if you’re of a certain age, you’ll reminisce about the time your own dad brought home a three-wheeler for you and simultaneously delighted you and infuriated your mother. (Or is that just me? I guess those things really were pretty dangerous.)

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Key was born in Memphis but his family moved down and out to the country in north Mississippi when he was six. His father, dubbed “Pop” here, will be intimately familiar to many readers in Mississippi and throughout the South. He believed a man’s place was in the woods during hunting season, pre-dawn, gun in hand, waiting to successfully take out many vicious deer or doves. If not the woods, though, the football field was the most appropriate place to be. Or, a man’s place was at the dinner table, where in Key’s family, all the men were served and ate their food before the women were able to enjoy even a bite of their own hard work.

Trouble was, Key was a kid who enjoyed pursuits more suited to the indoors, like reading and drawing. He shared a special bond with his mother, a teacher, who fostered these things in him, but also didn’t wave his father off from trying to make him “a man.” As he writes about his childhood, you feel the intense respect and love he had for his dad, but you also can’t help but appreciate his ongoing bewilderment and frustration. They were about as different as a father and son could be.

Key’s gift for humor and language makes this book an absolute joy to read. His wit and way with words will surprise you and make you laugh out loud. In fact, be prepared for a few strange looks to be shot your way if you’re reading it alone in public somewhere. It’s so worth it, though. I hated when it ended.

Key also has a deft touch when it comes to more tender moments, and you’ll likely be fighting back (perhaps unsuccessfully) a tear or two now and then. For all the outrageous stories, there is an openness here, an honesty about life and family and love that connects all of us, in a way, to Pop. Give this book a read and get to know him yourself. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Postscript: I had the immense pleasure of meeting Harrison Scott Key at Blue Bicycle Books in Charleston, SC recently. He was reading from and signing The World’s Largest Man. He also talked about the sometimes-tricky experience of writing a memoir while many of the people in it are still alive to read what you’ve written about them. He’s incredibly charming and funny. I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed so much at a book event before. If he’s coming to a town near you, I highly suggest you go! I accosted him afterwards and he graciously agreed to this photo with me:
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(Originally published here: http://msbusiness.com/2015/08/book-biz-a-mississippi-father-looms-large-in-this-funny-memoir/)