The end of the world was supposed to come with zombies attached, or maybe a flying meteor, but Dell finds that the reality is much less exciting—and infinitely lonelier.
In the wake of a virus that decimated the population, the place she calls home has turned into a ghost town. She hasn’t talked to anyone but her cat in weeks and finding an unopened bag of chips while looting the local grocery store is the only thrill she’s feeling.
There must be other survivors out there. But finding them means leaving behind her carefully organized stock of canned goods and burgeoning gnome collection.
Open Mic Night at the End of the World by Jessica Meyers is a post-apocalyptic novella that’s… unlike any post-apocalyptic fiction I’ve read. I think On the Edge of Gone comes closest in terms of feel and atmosphere and even then it’s actually nothing like that.
Disclaimer: I know the author from Twitter and was provided with a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
CWs: mentions of death, mentions of suicidal ideation, brief scene of animal related violence: character interrupts fighting dogs and is bitten, runs away. Also descriptions of anxiety.
In time-honoured fashion, I shall start with the things I didn’t like: There was far too little Sylvester. T_T You sell me a book about a cat lady in a post-apocalyptic world I would like to see a lot more cat in the narrative. That said, there’s a careful balance here between the interactions that Meyers shares and the ones that we’re left to fill in. The novella’s setting is surprisingly stark, keeping its descriptions to a minimum, and while the balance was sometimes a little off for me, it was also extremely effective and is a strong part of what made the novella so poignant and touching to read. The way that Dell does and does not remember her cat within the narrative of her story fits neatly within that sense of detachment and loneliness, and if it isn’t quite balanced right for my tastes, it’s still extremely effective.
I also would have liked the ending to be a little clearer in suggesting what might come next. I floundered a little, being able to tell that the story had reached a natural conclusion point and yet feeling like it wasn’t the least bit finished. It’s bittersweet and powerful too.
The whole novella is incredibly atmospheric and the descriptions we do get are beautiful and carefully crafted to capture the beauty of the world as well as the dissonant loneliness of being the sole survivor in the apocalypse. At times, the narrative is tense, veering into psychological horror perhaps, and its emotional balances are wonderful to read. It’s a story that’s about feeling and considering the way the apocalypse affects us. The descriptions of Dell getting used to voices is beautiful. Dell’s anxiety about venturing into the world at large, of worrying what she’ll find, is viscerally done.
Her response to John and the way their friendship slowly developed was this soft and gentle thing that really just warmed my heart to see. I loved the way they grew closer together, how they shifted around one another and how strongly they still felt. I loved their differing reactions to the apocalypse, but mostly I loved Dell’s voice. It was witty and sharp, but also tender and awefilling. It was scared and brave and… I just really liked it, the way Dell wove together the strands of her narrative. I would have liked a slightly stronger grasp on the world and why Dell is narrating this (to herself is a totally valid answer), but that’s as much personal preference as anything else. I just dislike first person narratives, no matter how good and this one I loved, if I don’t see an in-story reason for the choice.
I’m really glad that I got a chance to read it. If you like apocalyptic fiction, you’ll enjoy the way it riffs on some of the tropes and focuses more on the psychological effects of it. If you don’t like apocalyptic fiction, you might still enjoy it for the strong relationship that builds between the characters and the gorgeous descriptions. I’m used to post apocalyptic being dark and harsh and, somehow, this manages to be more of a warm cosy blanket. Not quite. Not entirely, but enough. Definitely recommended!