Post-apocalyptic fiction + Review: “The Salt Line” by Holly Goddard Jones

When readers come to me, asking for book suggestions, I ask them about books they’ve recently read and enjoyed, and books they’ve liked in the past.

They list some books for me, and sometimes they list The Hunger Games or something similar (there are a lot that are similar).

“But please no dystopian stuff,” they tell me. “I’m over it.”

STOP that people. JUST STOP! There are other types of ‘dystopian’ fiction!!

A couple of years ago, dystopian YA books were all the rage. Beautiful, strong heroes and heroines fighting incredibly flawed totalitarian systems in order to free the masses from oppression.

And, although the oppression was different, there was a formula at work. There’s nothing wrong with it, nothing at all, but after it worked a couple of times, it seemed like it was EVERYWHERE.

Because of their similarities, dystopian fiction took over one of my favorite literary genres (or is it a device? A sub genre?).  I’m talking about post-apocalyptic fiction. A less totalitarian, more literary version of its younger cousin.

I fell in love with post-apocalyptic fiction the first time I read Stephen King’s The Stand, in my teens. If there had been dystopian fiction back in those golden olden days, I would have devoured it. But there wasn’t, not in the way we think of it today.

After reading The Stand, I searched out various takes on the end of the world as we know it (well, pretty much the end of America as we know it), with most of my favorites taking place less than 100 years after the fall.

In the past few years I’ve read some wonderful takes on the end of our reality. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, California by Edan Lepucki, American War by Omar El Akkad all are wonderful, imaginative takes on what happens after the end.

At some point I’ll do a list of my favorite post-apocalyptic fiction, but these three are all relatively new and incredibly well written, doing what great post-apocalyptic fiction does best — studying the complexities of humanity and relationships in times of extreme stress, providing an in-depth looks at what people will do to survive.

I just finished one that give readers all the best of post-apocalyptic fiction. Here’s my take on The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones.


 

 The Salt Line

 Holly Goddard Jones

September 5, 2017 | G.P. Putnum’s Sons

Literary fiction | Post-apocalyptic fiction | Science fiction

In a vague point in the future, the United States has been redistricted into zones bordered by salt-scorched earth. Those within the zones are safe, but their lives are limited and ruled by fear.

What’s outside of the zones, behind those protective salt lines? Most of the world — but it’s crawling with ticks. A disease-ridden, deadly species known as miner ticks.

It’s the pregnant female tick that cause the majority of the trouble. With a that bite numbs the skin, she gives herself time to burrows in before she’s really noticed. After she nests, she releases her eggs under the skin, which can spread quickly. If not stopped, the eggs eventually erupt out of the skin –a birth that’s incredibly painful and possibly deadly to the host.

But it’s the blood-borne diseases that cause the real problem. Specifically Shreve’s disease; a fast, deadly disease that causes pain and paralysis before it kills.

If you live in a zone, you’re safe. Few travel outside of their zone, and it’s a huge deal to travel between zones. There are lumber companies and other industries located out-of-zone, and workers are paid handsomely to work and live outside the salt line.

And, because safe is boring, there are adventure companies taking rich adrenaline junkies on out of zone tours. Jones’s novel focuses on the members and their ‘adventures’ during such one such expedition.

This group includes Jesse, an egotistical pop star; his working class girlfriend, Edie; the tech wunderkind Wes; and Marta, a housewife and mother harboring a secret.

Once this group is beyond the wall, they get so much more than they bargained for. Kidnapped by a community that lives and thrives out-of-zone, the expedition group realizes there’s another world outside the salt line, one with tenuous connections to the zones that allow them to thrive.

When those connections are threatened, the outer zone survivors will do just about anything to protect their community. The kidnapping seems like their answer.

Seeing this community thrive where no one is supposed to be able to live causes Edie, Wes, and Marta to question their worldviews, wondering at what point the promise of safety turns into control. At some point, each must decide how important it really is to be on the ‘right’ side of the salt line.

The Salt Line is a searing look at what humans will do to survive, and what they’ll do for the people they love. Jones writes superbly about the best and the worst in humans: self-sacrifice, compassion, and cooperation tempered with greed, insecurity, and pettiness.

I had a hard time putting down The Salt Line. The protagonists were likable and complex; the antagonists hard to judge and to label as bad guys. Sometimes the lines between the two was blurred and confused, making it that much more engrossing.

I highly recommend The Salt Line.  Absorbing, captivating, and compelling.

 

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