Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Off to See the Wizard: Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle

I'd expected them to be waiting, to give me a sermon on the sin in which I've no doubt been reveling. But they're not in the living room, the dining room, the kitchen. I sigh in relief. Maybe they never noticed that I was gone. I sit on the couch and open the paper, expecting Rapture headlines, but there's no mention on the front page, just stories about all the usual disasters--tsunamis and tornadoes, terrorist attacks, fast-spreading viruses. I can't focus on the words. All I can think about is how empty the house seems.

I stand. "Mom?" I call out. "Dad?" I pull myself to my feet and walk up the stairs, down the hall to their bedroom.

I don't wonder when no voice answers my knock, and I'm not jolted by the sight of their bed, empty and made. I feel nothing at all, until I happen to glance up at the ceiling above and see the twin holes, rough at the edges, opening though the roof like perfect portals into the vast, cloudless sky.

Beaton Frick, powerful leader of the evangelical Church of America, had pronounced that the Rapture will occur on the previous night, and although her recently converted Believer parents had urged her to believe and join them in waiting, seventeen-year-old Vivian Apple has spent the night before at a "Rapture Night" party, drinking champagne with her non-believer friends Harp and others who are looking forward to saying "I told you so" the next morning.

But like her parents, thousands are missing, apparently raptured, and the left behind quickly split into two camps, the relentlessly non-believing and the believers who hold to a verse in the Book of Frick which promises a second coming of deliverance for the Believers who persist. In a world racked by strange turmoil--earthquakes, monster storms, heat waves and massive snowstorms in March, power outages, and the dissolution of civil order--it is easy to believe that those who are left are living at the time of the end of days, even those that believe Frick to be a total charlatan, manipulating the gullible through his fear-mongering control of the media, At first, Vivian meekly goes to New York City with her dutiful but detached grandparents. But then she gets a call from an exchange in California, a call in which there is only silence at the other end. Somehow Vivian feels that the call is from her mother.

Vivan reunites with her friends, taking her grandparents' lumbering old sedan, and with Harp and Peter, a boy she met at the rapture night party, they head for California, feeling that if they find Vivian's parents in a secret enclave of Frickian believers, they will discover the truth of what is really happening.

What follows is the road trip to end all road trips, in which the three try to find the like-minded New Orphans, a loose group of young people seeking to rebuild a social order free of the Church of America. Their leader, who calls himself "Goliath" offers food and shelter in his commune, but is ironically a mirror image of Beaton Frick. But one Orphan points them toward the redoubt of Beaton Frick himself. That pilgrimage discovers Frick as a degenerating old man who has lost control of his own apparatus, but no sign of Vivian's parents or the other missing rapturees. Vivian's hopes are focused on finding her mother in California, feeling that is the secret to understanding what is happening to her and her world.

To compare Katie Coyle's timely Vivian Apple at the End of the World (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) to the Yellow Brick Road trip in the Wizard of Oz is no slap at Coyle's smart, satiric, and insightful novel of our own times. Like the Wizard, Coyle's Frick uses the false screen of media to induce fear and loyalty, and like the Wizard, Frick is revealed to be impotent without his apparatchiks, The are good witches, bad witches, and a few flying monkeys along the way, and Vivian Apple, whose very name seems symbolic, is a vibrant, ultimately rebellious Eve, who discovers, like Dorothy, that with the loyalty of her friends, she has the power to make her way wherever her future lies. Coyle has shaped a new take on the evergreen brave new world theme, a Pre-Apocalyptic dystopian novel, a coming-of-age futuristic story that promises no illusive "Kansas" at its conclusion but gives young adult readers a look at one possible future to be found.

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