Most everyone has experienced the aggravation of temporarily losing cellphone or Internet services. But what would happen if all these forms of communication suddenly disappeared – simultaneously, and perhaps forever? How intense would the aggravation become in a tweetless world?
That is the scenario Vancouver’s Patrick Blennerhassett, author of the novels Monument and Random Acts of Vandalism, examines in his new dystopian thriller. One day, the sky turns white and all forms of communication – including analogue media like radio, television, and landline telephones – fall dead. Solar flares might be responsible, but no one knows for sure. International borders are closed. Looting, murder, and rape prevail.
Amid the pandemonium, we meet a confused and frightened young Seattle public relations executive named Tristan. He and his father endure a harrowing journey as they attempt to get to Victoria, where Tristan’s sister, Liz, is about to have a baby and is being stalked by her psychotic ex-boyfriend.
The story progresses rapidly, often in short, choppy sentences that are effective when used sparingly, but simply shout laziness when relied on page after page. Here’s one paragraph: “My father. A retired cop. Just stole an ATM.” Five exclamation points or a series of OMGs and emojis after each sentence fragment would not be out of place: Blennerhassett’s prose often reads like a series of texts written by a teenager.
Familial issues help thicken the plot. Tristan’s mother died years ago in a mysterious house fire, following which Tristan schlepped around Asia for a few years, becoming increasingly alienated from his family. The action-packed trip to Victoria that Tristan and his father embark upon represents an opportunity to reconnect.
Is this apocalyptic anarchy meant to be believable? Or is it just a bit of literary hyperbole intended to reflect the darker side of our outsized addiction to text and email? The failure of technology followed by an outbreak of mayhem has been the subject of many previous novels, and The Fatalists does not really add anything new to the canon. Blennerhassett offers no great insights, but for those reading simply for plot, there is a thrilling ride here.