Fiction. Literature. Historical Fiction. HTML:A town under quarantine during the 1918 flu epidemic must reckon with forces beyond their control in a powerful, sweeping novel of morality in a time of upheaval â??An American variation on Albert Camusâ?? The Plague.â?ťâ??Chicago Tribune NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY USA TODAY AND CHICAGO TRIBUNE â?˘ WINNER OF THE JAMES FENIMORE COOPER PRIZE FOR HISTORICAL FICTION Deep in the mist-shrouded forests of the Pacific Northwest is a small mill town called Commonwealth, conceived as a haven for workers weary of exploitation. For Philip Worthy, the adopted son of the townâ??s founder, it is a haven in another senseâ??as the first place in his life heâ??s had a loving family to call his own. And yet, the ideals that define this outpost are being threatened from all sides. A world war is raging, and with the fear of spies rampant, the loyalty of all Americans is coming under scrutiny. Meanwhile, another shadow has fallen across the region in the form of a deadly virus striking down vast swaths of surrounding communities. When Commonwealth votes to quarantine itself against contagion, guards are posted at the single road leading in and out of town, and Philip Worthy is among them. He will be unlucky enough to be on duty when a cold, hungry, tiredâ??and apparently illâ??soldier presents himself at the townâ??s doorstep begging for sanctuary. The encounter that ensues, and the shots that are fired, will have deafening reverberations throughout Commonwealth, escalating until every human valueâ??love, patriotism, community, family, friendshipâ??not to mention the townâ??s very survival, is imperiled. Inspired by a little-known historical footnote regarding towns that quarantined themselves during the 1918 epidemic, The Last Town on Earth is a
With respect to the subject matter, the writing and pace of the narrative, I have no complaints. I enjoyed reading the novel and appreciated the author's ability to shed light on a subject and an era in our history that is seldom addressed.
My only complaint is somewhat personal, though to my mind important. Much of the novel centers on the status of Commonwealth as a sawmill town and its connection to the forest products of the region. This being the case, it is almost inexcusable that the author would consistently use incorrect nomenclature when referring to aspects of the industry. Being in the forest products industry, it rankles when the terms "timber", "logs" and "lumber" are used interchangably or incorrectly. Each has a specific meaning. Timber refers to trees standing in the woods. Logs are trees that have been severed but not finally manufactured. Lumber is the finished product of a sawmill. So, when the author consistently refers to the sawmill selling its timber, he is misspeaking. Sawmills buy timber, cut it into logs and manufacture it into lumber. Likewise, references to lumber camps should instead refer to logging camps.
This might seem a small matter, but if an author elects to make forest products a major part of his story line, it is incumbent upon him to do so accurately. It would certainly seem to be simple enough to have his manuscript vetted by someone with some knowledge of the subject. If an author is so casual and sloppy with what would seems to be such a major part of his story line, how can I assume that many of the other facts or constructs of the novel are accurate? I'm aware that this is a novel and not a history book, but this does not excuse blatant inaccuracies when applied to the background of the novel.
Back in WW1, my town was home to Camp Sherman...and during the war, Spanish Influenza broke out, killing many, many people.
This much I knew; but I didn't know much else.
I didn't know that the Spanish flu, for some reason, attacked people in their
I didn't know that there were towns in the U.S. that completely isolated themselves during the epidemic, hoping to prevent the illness from entering their community. Some towns were successful in this; others were not.
Though this book is a work of fiction, it in incredibly informative about how the Spanish Influenza attacked its victims.
It is a story of paranoia, anger, fear, hatred--all the ugly aspects of humanity. But there is also love there, too, and innocence.
Philip is perhaps the most adorable teenaged protagonists I have ever come across, and his struggles left me in tears more than once.
If you have any interest in history, WW1, or just enjoy stories about human nature, I highly recommend this book.
But, strangely, I didn't really enjoy the book. For one, Mullen's writing style is not my thing. He tends to say hokey things like "bullets slammed into flesh" and begins a lot of sentences with "Many a night" which feels somewhat stilted and archaic. He'll repeat the same word several times within a few sentences or paragraphs (e.g. "banter").
It's not a bad book, but it doesn't feel as polished or as meaningful as I would have expected, given all the good press. There is something about it, maybe the overemphasis on Douglas firs, that makes it obvious that the writer doesn't live 'round here (Pac NW). There is no dearth of grimness in the novel, either, and a surprising amount of violence--neither of which is bad on its own but feels harsh when following a lot of not-terribly-well-written chapters.
The historical fiction aspect is not bad, and feels well-researched, though the speaking patterns of the characters doesn't feel quite dated enough to seem 1918-ish. The plot is good, and is the driving force of the book. It twists enough to make this a page-turner, almost enough to make it feel like a horror novel in a few places.
I had recommended that my book club read this book a few months ago, but would probably not recommend it now. It's just not special enough.
Well written. Somewhat unsettling to me because main character gets unjustly treated.
Once the story got rolling, however, I was hooked and couldn't stop listening. It's one of those books that really makes you stop and take a look at yourself as a human being, and I think that's why I liked it so very much. The whole time, and in different situations, I would find myself wondering what I would do if I were in that little town, faced with what these people were faced with. While we're very far removed from 1918, after Katrina, I've been wondering a lot about what people do in an abnormal situation just to survive that they probably would not do in their normal lives. It's really something to think about, and in that sense, the book is pertinent to modern times.
I think the book went on too long, though; perhaps the last part of the book could have been skipped, making it a bit more poignant and more focused on the effects of the quarantine itself. Other than that, if you read this one, beware that it will take some time to get into, but once you're there, it's wonderful.
It is set in a small town that has been built for logging and the local mill, very bare bones, few amenities. It is in the Pacific Northwest, the fictional town of Commonwealth, Washington. The man who started it wanted to run a mill his way, and treat his workers decently. It is during a time of labor strife, Red scares, and the end of WWI. The flu is also stalking the land, and people are dying fast and horribly.
The isolation of the town will not protect them, if they associate with others by allowing them into Commonwealth, or by visiting other towns themselves. They decide as a town to enact a quarantine and prevent ingress or egress until the flu is gone.
The quarantine sets up a conflict when a sick soldier comes to the log gate and wants in. He is lost, cold, and starving.
There are 2 young men on guard. A mill worker in his 20s with a pregnant wife, and small daughter. Graham remembers the loss of an earlier love, and the violence of labor strikes and the mill owners. He vows to protect his wife and child and his town.
The other guard, Philip is the adopted son of the mill owner Charles Worthy. He is only 16, and he looks up to Graham. Phil had a rootless, fatherless life with his wayward mother until the car crash that killed her, her current low life paramour and crippled and orphaned him. He wants to prove worthy of the love of his adopted family, and the trust of the town.
Both guards are feeling inadequate and they express their anxiety in different ways. Graham is aggressive and will fight. Philip is afraid and wants to avoid making a mistake.
Graham shoots the soldier who refuses to stop advancing. Philip is trying to reason with the soldier, to get him to stop. He freezes at the crucial moment and Graham is the one who acts alone. The action drives Phil and Graham apart. It also introduces an immoral element into the town. Its OK to deny help to strangers, ifs OK to kill to protect themselves. Eventually the townspeople use that reasoning and unfeeling immorality against each other. Once the line is crossed it is easier to justify everything that comes after.
Philip is standing guard alone and a second soldier arrives at the gate. Philip decides to hide him in one of the empty cabins at the edge of town. He was going to let him sleep, warm up, and bring him food. Once the soldier was rested he was supposed to leave. But Philip is discovered and he and the new soldier are kept in the house together in an internal quarantine. They are supposed to be released in 48 hours if they aren't sick. Phil is fine and so is the soldier, but they decide to keep him prisoner.
The town starts to break down when the flu gets in. The town also has to deal with the actions of a nearby city. They want to shut the mill, kill competition, and prevent Charles from implementing new labor practices.
The writing is light and smooth, and it just flows. The story is interesting, and the characters are well done. There is a lot of great information about the conditions during WWI, the labor issues, and the effect of the flu.
Thomas Mullen depicts a town in Washington that in all out effort to protect itself from the pandemic that had been sweeping the nation, shut itself off from the rest of the world. Initially the plan seems to work, but soon a solider fresh from the battlefields of World War I comes to the town and demands to be let it. This is where the basis of the conflict in the book begins as the people in the town struggle morally with their desire to save themselves and help the veteran at the same time.
â€ś'Heâ€™s still coming,'â€ť Philip said helplessly, trying not to panic. He hurriedly rolled up the sleeves of Grahamâ€™s coat, wondering why he felt fid-gety and nervous when Graham seemed to become even more still than usual."
Mullen manages to skillfully stitch together real events like the massacre in Everett into the background of the tale without exposing the fictional world that he has created. Despite the subject matter, the story is not depressing. Instead, it manages to instill hope that humanity will do the right thing when presented with a moral conflict. Each character seems real and and the reader can easily sympathize with the decisions that are being wrestled with and encourages the reader to mull over how they would react in a similar situation (such as the recent swine flu panic).
The only criticism I can offer is that the writing style can be difficult. This is Mullenâ€™s first book and his lack of experience is evident. The writing can be stilted and is riddled with cliches-but not so horrible as to be a deterrent. The character development and his ability to create a intriguing story line more than make up for his lack of polish, something that could be easily fixed by a strong editor.
The Last Town on Earth is an interesting story about trust, right and wrong and what people are willing to do when lives are on the line.
The Rest of It:
A friend recommend this book to me well over a year ago. In my mind, I thought it would be more dystopian in feel, but it wasnâ€™t
At first, this works fine. The town is self-sufficient to a degree. There is plenty of food and other supplies and most of the folks feel that the quarantine is a necessary precaution. But as the flu ravages other towns and there is talk of war spies, the people of Commonwealth realize that they may have to protect their town from more than just the flu.
While on guard duty, Philip & Graham encounter a soldier looking for shelter and food. Grahamâ€™s handling of the situation disturbs Philip and causes him to replay the incident over and over again in his mind. The encounter affects him so deeply, that when he is faced with a similar situation, he makes a decision that puts the entire town at risk.
The story was a bit slow for me. It took a good 200 pages for me to get into it but there was something about the writing that kept me going. The depiction of the town itself was spot on. I could easily picture the setting in my mind and the main characters and the situations they faced were well-developed. I had some issues with the development of some of the other characters though. Their demeanor did not match their age, but in a frontier town in the early 1900â€˛s, that is to be expected. Young people held more responsibility in those days.
Although this story deals with a pandemic itâ€™s not like any of the other novels Iâ€™ve read that deal with the same topic. The flu itself takes a backseat to the other themes within the novel which include, fierce loyalty, the will to survive, trust and honor. Not a page-turner but I liked it.
Rumors start spreading. Flu without a cure. Flu that kills in a matter of days. Flu that spreads like wildfire. The town decides to quarantine itself. Roads are closed, guards are posted. They ration supplies, grow food--nobody wants to risk traveling to the nearest city.
Then a solider shows up at the roadblock. On duty are Philip Worthy, adopted son of the town's founder, and his best friend Graham. The soldier is desperate. So are the men. The result of this meeting affects not only the men present, but the town as well.
And what happens if the quarantine doesn't keep the flu out? What then would the encounter with the soldier mean?
The seed of the idea from the book arose from the author's having read of such towns that quarantined themselves at that time, but this book is completely fictional. A fascinating, unputdownable tale.
Also, if you are into Downton Abbey -- this book is set in the same time period, but has an entirely different milieu and serves as a great counterpoint.
Interesting historical fiction, although the characterizations tend to be limited somewhat to good guys and bad guys. Some actions of the main characters, particularly those townsfolk who don't approve of the temporary quarantine, make no sense and seem to be included just to raise tension. However, the story kept me wanting to read to find out what happened, and I'll read more by this author.