This was one messed up novel. If I were in a group of people and we were standing around talking about this book I would be the one raising my eyebrows, shoving another cocktail weenie in my mouth and shouting “Wasn’t that the most messed up book ever?”
Yeah, because that’s what I do. I go to parties where there are mini hotdogs, multi-colored Chinese lanterns, some hipster crap music playing in the background and me standing in a group of people talking about life. You don’t know me at all, do you? The only way you could get me to one of those parties would be:
1) Horse tranquilizers
2) Promise me an endless supply of mini hotdogs and my own bathroom; I’m not 20 anymore. My stomach doesn’t handle whatever organ meat hotdogs are made from anymore.
3) Promise me I can go through the pockets of all the coats piled on a bed. And keep what I find.
My best friend recommended Claire Fuller’s Our Endless Numbered Days to me. She did her own eyebrow raising thing and cryptically said “The ending is not what you’re expecting. At all.” So when I finished it, I texted her first, demanding that my questions be answered. And did she agree that this was one messed up novel?
Indeed, she agreed. It is one screwed up novel.
And I’m still puzzled about some of the bizarre things that went on in this book. I mean, puzzled to the point where I’m writing this sentence and thinking ‘What did that character mean by that?’ But you know the best part? The screwed uppedness (tell Webster I want this new word in his next dictionary edition) of this book doesn’t hit all at once. It unfolds like a quiet diabolical storm. You’re reading along and thinking ‘Huh, that’s weird. Hmmm…what’s going on?’ and then about 45 pages away from the ending you look up from reading and go ‘Shut the front door! What the frig is going on????!!!’
Here. Let me sell it to you.
It’s 1976 London and 8-year-old Peggy Hillcoat’s father is part of a group of men who are survivalists (yeah, I didn’t know England had them either). Peggy likes to listen to them but her mother, Ute, can’t stand them. Ute was a famous German classical pianist in her youth and spends most of her days like most former uppity musicians: looking at pictures of ‘Way Back When’, playing mournful elegies on the piano and carrying on as if she’s still the bomb.
Peggy’s father James and an American survivalist named Oliver grow close. I didn’t like this Oliver dude from the beginning. He’s not evil or anything. He’s just…annoying. Like ‘I’d really like to punch you in the face’ annoying. Oliver likes to egg James on. James, it turns out, is kind of an unstable fanatic but you can’t really tell which way he’s going yet: is he a fanatic like me with Doctor Who or is he a fanatic with a homemade bomb in a shoe box in the pantry behind the box of instant potatoes?
Ute goes off to Germany to play a gig for a few weeks leaving Peggy and James on their own. They set up a tent at the end of the garden, don’t bathe for days and become wild creatures. So one day James just kind of snaps and says “We’re going on an adventure. Pack some stuff. Let’s go.”
And on an adventure they do go, all the way to a tiny ramshackle cabin in the middle of nowhere. Really nowhere. I’m talking the nearest town is a five-day walk. Carved on the underside of a table in the cabin is the name Rueben. A mysterious name in a mysterious place. It’s all fun at first, hunting and gathering, making the small cabin into their own. But the hot summer wears on and Peggy starts to miss her mother and her home. She misses her best friend and school. Her dad starts showing signs of a complete mental breakdown. He’s good at this survivalist thing but the dude cannot cope with everyday life. He runs into the cabin one day and tells Peggy that the world is gone. The world ended and they are the last two people alive. And damn, she’s eight years old so she believes him.
For the next eight years it is as if they are the last two people alive.
And then someone comes out of the forest.