Friday, April 13, 2012

The Last Town on Earth

How far would you go to protect someone you love?

Is it ever right to do something that would ordinarily be wrong?  If so, how do you know, and who has the right to make this decision? 

Can you do the wrong thing for the right reason?  Is it still wrong?

These are just some of the questions explored in Thomas Mullen's novel, The Last Town on Earth

Set in 1918, the novel explores these perennial moral questions against the backdrop of one of the most extreme epochs in modern history.  Despite President Wilson's promises, the United States has entered the world war.  By that time, millions of young men had spent four years trapped in the Western Front's bloody, unimaginable hell of bombs, mud, machine guns, disease and poison gas.

Just as the grueling war was being drawn to a close, thanks in part to thousands of fresh US troops, an epidemic of the deadly Spanish Influenza was being spread among civilians by soldiers returning from the front.  As described in some graphic detail my Mullen, one can hardly imagine a more horrible way to die than by this disease. 

At the same time, industrialization had brought about drastic changes in societies, leading to events such as the 1917 Revolution in Russia.  Although the United States never experienced anything quite so drastic, many of the same factors - harsh working condition, growing inequity in resources and opportunity, the concentration of money and power in the hands of a few - led to violent clashes between workers and their employers.

Mullen ties these factors together in the fictitious, utpoian Pacific northwestern town of Commonwealth.  Faced with such dire circumstances, the people of the community decide to try to protect themselves by temporarily cutting themselves off from the outside world.  But when the outside world, in the form of a lost and starving (and possibly infected) US soldier, tries to break into their fragile bubble of safety, some members of the community decide to act, with devastating consequences.

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