Saturday, August 6, 2016
Staff Review: "The Last One" by Alexandra Oliva
"How's your cat doing? Still tearing up the couch?" you ask.
"No," your acquaintance responds, "she died last week."
Awkward silence descends.
It's common knowledge that you avoid the obviously controversial topics of politics and religion, but it's much easier to slip and ask a personally treacherous question about careers or relationships. Who wants to discuss the complications of their romantic life with near strangers and distant relatives? Add in all the varied social pressure around reproductive choices for women (the clock is ticking!), and you have a real recipe for disaster.
Zoo* is twenty-nine, happily married with an enjoyable career, and she decides to avoid the question of children for just a little bit longer by signing up for a reality TV competition focused on wilderness survival. Think, Survivor, but set in a wilderness area in Pennsylvania instead of somewhere more distant. Zoo's choice to pick adventure (and avoidance) over convention made perfect sense to me as a reader and a woman who's faced similar social pressures in her life.
I did not expect to find such a depth or resonance of character when I checked out The Last One by Alexandra Oliva. I wasn't looking for a reflection on the potential loss of self (or at least freedom) that can come from motherhood. Nope, I wanted to read Oliva's debut novel because I enjoy the escapism of a good survival tale, especially a survival tale in the face of The End of the World As We Know It.
The chapters alternate between a behind the scenes view of the reality competition and Zoo's continued struggle to survive alone in the wilderness. In the first chapter readers learn that a mysterious infection with a very high mortality rate will rapidly spread across the eastern United States (and entire world), leaving Zoo stranded and unaware.
The Last One will be near the top of my Best of list for 2016 for the way that Oliva mixes literary introspection, sharp human observation, and a suspenseful action plot. This is a fully absorbing weekend read that stuck with me even after I finished the last page, and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a gripping tale of survival.
~Sarah, Adult Services
*Not her real name. Zoo is the nickname given to her by the TV show's production team, and as a reader you don't learn her real name until much later in the book.