After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall: A Novel by Nancy Kress (REVIEW)

A relatively short (under 200 pages) but interesting novel that puts a unique spin on the apocalypse. As the title suggests, each chapters carries us backwards or forwards in time, telling three intersecting stories:

AFTER THE FALL: A claustrophobic, emotionally charged, post-apocalyptic tale of dying adults, damaged adolescents, and stolen children.

BEFORE THE FALL: Cold and efficient, a contemporary drama surrounding one woman's struggle to decipher a mystery while preparing for single motherhood.

DURING THE FALL: Brief, tantalizing, and the heart of the story, these mini chapters offer a terrifying glimpse into just how simply catastrophic change can begin.

This is a book where execution is everything, where the telling of the story trumps the story itself. Personally, I saw the 'twist' revelation coming very early on, but that's OK. Instead of being something that hooks the reader or sets the stage for an earth-shattering climax, the twist is more a key to unlocking the melancholy truth behind the end of human civilization.

Fortunately, the telling is solid, populated by characters who may not be entirely likeable, but to whom we can either relate, or with whom we can sympathize. Pete (AFTER) is a spoiled teenager, a sad, angry, lonely young man who fills his time by having emotionless sex with teenagers as damaged as himself, and with secret, painful, unrequited longing for an older woman who serves as teacher, mother, doctor, aunt, and friend. His only escape from The Shell (a sterile bubble in which the human race has been preserved) is through brief jaunts into the past, where he steals supplies he doesn't understand . . . and young children to help repopulate the race.

Julie (BEFORE) is a lonely, independent, brilliant mathematician who has been helping the FBI to find a pattern in the bizarre string of child abductions and store thefts. Having become too close to her FBI partner, she chooses to embark on a path of single motherhood, even as she finds herself cast adrift by an agency that doesn't believe her theories. Driven as much by her need to find a purpose behind the pattern as she is by the need to protect her child, she sets herself on a course that will ultimately see her cross paths with Pete . . . before it's too late to satisfy either need.

A solid effort, with a well thought out, appreciably detailed, yet somehow understated catastrophic end to humanity's reign in the final chapters. I would have like a bit more insight into the aliens, but that's a minor quibble and doesn't detract from my appreciation for the story Nancy Kress has crafted here.

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