Today's Reading

This excerpt ends on page of the paperback edition. (The copy in this email is used by permission, from an uncorrected advanced proof. In quoting from this book for reviews or any other purpose, it is essential that the final printed book be referred to, since the author may make changes on these proofs before the book goes to press. This book will be available in bookstores July 2019.


Thirteen days into the second month of the year, the lights began to go out. Which is to say that the power grid died. In some places, the darkness came suddenly, an abrupt and violent nightfall. Elsewhere, it pulsed intermittently—like the wings of an injured bird—until finally landing for good. Everyone pressed the buttons and switches they were accustomed to pressing, but nothing happened. No light beams radiated across the room, no sound surged through the speakers, no hum or whir or tick emerged from the hard drives. The switches simply did not switch anything.

Though no network television or internet news could report the blackout, the word "cyberattack" started making its way across the landscape. But no one could say with certainty who its perpetrators were. Many assumed it was the work of the crescendoing jihad in one of the misunderstood countries to the east. Some presumed a coalition of domestic anarchists had done it, a final act of liberation. Others believed those "anarchists" had been hired as professional agitators by the government. Some said it was a superworm gone rogue.

The darkness was the final stroke in a series of blows that had pushed the world to its knees. In a system of uneven distribution, where "debt" was a word without consequence, only so much teetering was possible before the party ended. The companies that were too big to fail failed. The oil supply chain broke after a series of terrorist attacks halted extraction. Fuel costs rose by 200 percent. In the United States, young people who'd been sold a future they couldn't afford defaulted on student loans. All these events precipitated the October Shocks, when the dollar fell by more than 40 percent, forcing the government to print more bills—so many bills that kids needed backpacks to haul around their lunch money. Then the rest of the public utilities went. Then the companies that had scrambled to stand in for the public utilities went. The government shut down, and no one could bail it out.

Meanwhile, the flu swept across the globe like a wind, extinguishing hundreds of thousands of people. A potent strain, it came on like a cold but burned up its victims with fever and drowned their lungs. Those who'd caught earlier, milder strains were fortunate in their resistance but were left to deal with the dead.

Nature continued to exact her own revenge. Torrential rains led to floods that swallowed bayous and bog towns. Forest fires, now unstoppable, swept across the West.

Onto the topography of change and despair came the darkness. There were neither prescriptions nor predictions. Grief and pain could make you either cruel or generous; the only common denominator was loss.

While changes circumnavigated the globe, they were noticed particularly in the country that had for so long perceived itself as the center of the universe, due to its wealth and style and the ever-burning beacon it offered for those living in places arguably darker and poorer and seemingly more precarious. It wasn't just electrical power that they'd lost, but purchasing power. No more caffe lattes with scones. No more handheld i-thingies. No more tanks full of gas. And no more personal power: the bold bravado, the unwavering invincibility, the belief that they would always be on top, delivered from despair—because delivery was what they knew and delivery was what they believed they were entitled to.

People stood wide-eyed, surprised by sounds that suddenly seemed to fill the silence: birdsong, wind, heartbeats, their own breath. Amidst their fear that everything they knew was ending, they saw that some things remained constant. One such thing was the sun, which continued its arc over the edge of the world, marking the days one by one, oblivious to their particulars but illuminating them all the same.



At the end of a long and narrow street not far from the sea, right around the time of the spring equinox, the sun rose as a sliver between two skyscrapers. Carson Waller could see it if he stepped out onto the tiny balcony of his apartment at precisely the right time. One morning in mid-March, he woke just as the light was shifting, the beige color of his bedroom walls warming to yellow. Time to rise. To admire the light and to tend to the tasks of this strange new life: fill water buckets, forage for food, track down supplies. In a few days, he'd leave this apartment—this whole city—behind.

He rolled onto his back and exhaled. The inhale came of its own accord and, with it, a surprising and fragrant tang. Sweetness. The smell was unmistakable. Citrus. Oranges. How was that possible here, right now, near the end of winter? He breathed in again. There it was.

He thought immediately of Beatrix. Her smile, her auburn hair, her hands, the sound of her voice. Closing his eyes, he inhaled again and imagined her next to him, the weight and warmth of her almost real.

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