Originally published September 2019
Here’s the thing about books about the Apocalypse: They work because ….ugh. Yeah, it could happen.
Maybe one of the reasons I’ve always been a little OCD about germs (a little, not a lot) is that I read Stephen King’s “The Stand” when I was barely in my teens. A flu bug that kills damn near everyone? It’s a storyline that sticks with you. And “The Stand” is the bar by which I judge my fatalistic reads.
So with Kimi Eisele’s “The Lightest Object in the Universe,” like others before it, I dive in prepared to be underwhelmed so that I can be surprised when I find the story enjoyable. And as I was with “Station Eleven” I found Eisele’s story of love in the age of the apocalypse completely engaging. OK, depressing and engaging.
Carson and Beatrix are the sorta star-crossed lovers in Eisele’s post-flu, post-financial collapse of present day United States. Carson, a widower and school principal, meets Beatrix, the environmental/fair trade activist when she comes to speak to students. He on the East Coast, she on the West, they keep in touch as long as they can until communication as we know it through phone lines and the internet comes to a screeching halt.
When it appears his already unstable urban environment is going to truly implode, Carson hits the road to find Beatrix. All the while Beatrix, on the West Coast, is struggling to create a community to rival that of a cult leader that promises salvation and ice cream. (You think ice cream isn’t a draw? Eat rodents and dandelion greens for months on end. Even the lactose intolerant may hand over their souls for a little mint chocolate chip.)
What I found most interesting is that yes, while Eisele is careful to keep readers painfully aware of the end of the world existence these characters live in, I felt like she was equally adamant in that environment not overwhelming the story. Because at its heart, “The Lightest Object in the Universe” is a love story and an exploration of friendships and really, family units, that develop under intense circumstances. Flash, Dragon, Rosie, Carmen and Gary become the center of Beatrix’s world and make for some of the story’s heart-tugging plot lines.
No book is perfect and there were a few threads to the story that I felt like could have been explored a little further. But nothing that I felt like diminished the overall storyline. And maybe there’s something to be said about a little mystery. Maybe the point of unanswered questions is to force us to think about the people in and out of our lives. And that connections can be very deep even if very brief.