by Anne Mendel
It’s the 2020 Apocalypse and Sophie Cohen, former social worker turned neighborly drug dealer, must keep her family alive amid those pesky end of the world issues: starvation, earthquakes, plagues, gang violence and alas more starvation.She investigates a serial killing and takes down the sinister emerging power structure while learning to use a pizza box solar oven, bond with her chickens and blast tin cans from the perimeter fence with a Ruger 9MM. In order to accomplish all this she must find a way to love her mother, accept her daughter’s adulthood and reignite her moribund marriage. She might discover that a decentralized, consensus driven life—without fossil fuels, iPhones and chocolate éclairs—isn’t the end of the world, after all.
Set in the year 2020 this post-apocalyptic novel dishes up dark humor, memorable characters and a startling look at a post-apocalypse reality. Mendel’s debut novel is captivating as she takes us into downtown Portland and into the lives of the Cohen family. I was held hostage by the protagonist’s voice and the suspenseful plot.
The tale begins when we step into the life of Sophia Cohen. Before devastating natural disasters occurred she was a mother, wife and social worker. Now she is a drug dealer trading medication for food and supplies. The residence in the condo that the Cohen family resides in, work together as a small commune. They all have skills and use those for the good of the building. Bertrand, Sophie’s husband, works at the local hospital for bread and one night tells Sophia about the bodies of a young woman showing up with their hearts missing. He thinks they should investigate and the tale that unfolds rocks their world and forever changes them. They learn of a power struggle between two rival gangs and quickly realize they are all in danger. Told from Sophia’s voice, Mendel breathes such an air of believability into this tale, that I found myself completely immersed.
The characters in this tale are all unique. Some are dark, some pathetic and some downright scary. Sophia wears many caps. She is; a daughter seeking approval, a wife who wants to be held, and a mother who worries for her daughter’s future. She is a sister, a caregiver and an organizer. She is brave even when she wants to turn tail and run. Sophia is clever and sees the big picture. To the outside world, she is quiet, bright, a leader, a shoulder to cry on, and the voice of reason. On the inside, she is a scared, sarcastic, witty woman who wants a hot bath, a piece of chocolate cake and maybe some friggin toilet paper. I adore her and I love the running commentary she has in her head. At times I laughed so hard I had tears. Bertrand is a quiet man. He is soft-spoken, liked by all and driven in his professional field. He takes healing very seriously and at times Sophia thinks he is oblivious to the world outside of the hospital. As we learn about Bertrand we find out there is so much more to this man. Lulu is Sophia’s somewhat eccentric mother and I loved this silly woman. The other characters in this tale were well fleshed out and took on lives of their own. From the bad guys to the not so bad guys I was highly entertained and found them all to be memorable. It isn’t often that secondary characters have this much depth.
The world-building was so surreal. Mendel lays out a post-apocalyptic world and holds nothing back. She briefly explains how this world came to be, at least enough to satisfy this reader and paints the results in a horrifying, humorous, and realistic way. I loved the attention to detail from the source of food to the longing for toilet paper. The power struggle that is occurring in Portland and the Cohen’s inevitable role in it was fascinating, scary and believable. This is not a fast-paced tale; it is complex and beautifully woven. I thoroughly enjoyed the journey, the characters, and the stark reality.
Fans of post-apocalyptic novels are sure to fine Mendel’s dark, gritty and humorous tale a delight. While some of my YA readers might find the pace of this novel too slow for their taste, I think you will find it worth the read. Etiquette for an Apocalypse was highly entertaining and a fantastic survival guide. I have added Anne Mendel to my authors to watch list and look forward to reading more of her work.
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