**Tarmac (VF Apocalypse for Beginners) by Nicolas Dickner

by Nicolas Dickner


The Randall family was always a little strange. For generations, each member receives a prophetic vision of the apocalypse — but always on a different date. When the End of Days fails to materialize, yet another Randall goes mad.

In the summer of 1989, Hope Randall’s mother, in an attempt to forestall the latest imminent apocalypse, loads up the Lada and heads west from Yarmouth. After their car dies in Rivière-du-Loup, the mother and daughter put down roots, as yet another day of reckoning comes and goes.

Mickey Bauermann has never seen the likes of the red-headed wonder that is Hope, whose idea of a good time is spending Friday nights watching David Suzuki reveal the mysteries of science on TV. The Bauermann family has been in the concrete business for generations, but Mickey has other ideas of what he wants to do with his life. For now, he spends every available second with Hope, whose mother has become increasingly unhinged. The teens take refuge in Mickey’s bungalow basement, aka The Bunker, where they watch the twentieth century crumble and transform on the small screen.

But when Hope’s destiny as a Randall is revealed by chance — and by a bomb shelter’s worth of ramen noodles — the time for hiding out is past. For Hope, the only way to deal with the end of the world is to confront it head on. The journey begins…

I didn’t like this book. I think. This assessement comes with a giant question mark because it’s hard to profess disliking a thing when you hardly even know what it’s supposed to be. Is this a giant essay about the social trauma of constantly expecting the end of the world, disguised as a novel? I thought it was, and that would have been a good place to stop! But then the book kept going, baffingly, and muddled it’s own (maybe?) theme.

Is this legitimately attempting to be a weird as heck romance with extra steps, but all it manages to be is an heteronormative, almost insulting take on the manic pixie dream girl, who almost manages to make both characters likeable but then butchers it in the most insulting ending of all times?

Was what I interpreted out of the ending even what was suggested by the author, who for the life of him cannot make any meaning plain but keep losing himself in increasingly convulted metaphors?

Reviewers on GoodReads keep talking about the plot of this book, to which I want to say: what plot?! Certainly, events happen. Most of them are even related to eachother, in a linear fashion, with what passes as internal coherency. But a sequential series of events does not a plot make. A book need to have a purpose, a goal, a quest, maybe a theme.

When you end the book, you are supposed to feel like the characters got something out of the journey.

And listen; this book certainly seems like it has all of these things. Like a dude in your writing class, it comes in with a certain grandeur, and then attempts to make a narrative point but drowns it under metaphors and similes. The end result is something that would certainly be a joy to analyze in class, but I’m fairly certain that none of the readers would come out of it with the same interpretation. Which is…. fine, I suppose, for certain types of ~literary fiction~. But this book just feels like it’s trying too hard. Which is a shame; as I said, the characters are genuinely likeable. The concept is interesting, and the setting (the very city I live in!) is great. I just wish that the book had done more with all of these elements. I kept reading, because the author kept adding in more interesting and intriguing elements. A japanese prophet! A trip around the world to get to the bottom of the Randall family visions! A mysterious roomate!

But then the author proceeds to drop the ball on all of those elements. I think all three of those things ended up being ~metaphors to ~teach the main character about ­~something, but the point of a thematic element is that you have to make it evident somewhat. I’m not asking for obviousness, but if I’m gonna be reading a book with a cold drink outside on my porch, I don’t want to have to re-read it seven times and annotate the text like I’m preparing a dissertation before I start to get the story.

Once more, a book that I bought in person, from a physical book store, only on the strenght of it’s blurb and cover ended up being very dissapointing. You know, when a book has apocalyptic visions as it’s primary concept, I expect to at least get to the bottom of them, or get a little magic action, or the actual apocalypse, or something. Or, I don’t know, if you want to make them a ~symbol for some thematic element or another, make it clear.

I just feel like there are at least six or seven MUCH better books to be written with every element present in Tarmac, and that’s a damn shame. When a book ends up feeling like a waste of time, not just for me but also for the two main characters who I was rooting for, then it’s not a good look.

You might argue that the two main characters are in fact pretty solidly implied to get an Happy Ever After, even if it’s the most heteronormative and boring HEA one could think of. But this still doesn’t make this a satisfying ending, as Hope certainly didn’t get what she wanted OR what she needed, and nothing about the core conflict of the book (the Randall visions!) get resolved. As for Mickey… well, okay, I guess he got what he wanted. But Mickey is by far the less interesting character, and never really got any sort of character arc or development, so giving him an HEA doesn’t really do much for the reader.

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