Deep in the mist-shrouded forests of the Pacific Northwest is a small mill town called Commonwealth, conceived as a haven for workers weary of exploitation. For Philip Worthy, the adopted son of the town’s founder, it is a haven in another sense–as the first place in his life he’s had a loving family to call his own.
And yet, the ideals that define this outpost are being threatened from all sides. A world war is raging, and with the fear of spies rampant, the loyalty of all Americans is coming under scrutiny. Meanwhile, another shadow has fallen across the region in the form of a deadly illness striking down vast swaths of surrounding communities.
When Commonwealth votes to quarantine itself against contagion, guards are posted at the single road leading in and out of town, and Philip Worthy is among them. He will be unlucky enough to be on duty when a cold, hungry, tired–and apparently ill–soldier presents himself at the town’s doorstep begging for sanctuary. The encounter that ensues, and the shots that are fired, will have deafening reverberations throughout Commonwealth, escalating until every human value–love, patriotism, community, family, friendship–not to mention the town’s very survival, is imperiled.
Inspired by a little-known historical footnote regarding towns that quarantined themselves during the 1918 epidemic, The Last Town on Earth is a remarkably moving and accomplished debut.
From the Hardcover edition.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.18(w) x 7.96(h) x 0.94(d)|
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From the Hardcover edition.
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The road to Commonwealth was long and forbidding, stretching for miles beyond Timber Falls and leading deep into the evergreen woods, where the trees grew taller still as if trying to reach the sun that teased them with the paucity of its rays. Douglas fir loomed over the rock-strewn road like two warring armies perched on opposing cliffs. Even those travelers who all their lives had been reminded of their insignificance felt particularly humbled by that stretch of road and the preternatural darkness that shadowed it.
Some number of miles into the woods, the road curved to the right and the trees backed off a bit, the brown dirt and occasional stumps evidence that the woods had been cleared out only recently, and only with extreme tenacity. The clearing rose along a gradual incline; at the base of the hill, a tree that had recently been chopped down blocked the road. Into its thick bark a sign was nailed: a warning to travelers who didn’t exist, a silent cry into deaf woods.
A crisp wind picked up atop the bare hill, carrying the combined exhalations of millions of fir and pine. Philip sucked in his breath.
“Cold?” Graham asked.
Graham motioned back to the town. “You need to get yourself a warmer jacket, go ahead.”
“Suit yourself.” Philip did look cold in his thin jacket and khaki pants—pencil-pusher attire—whereas Graham was clad in his usual blue overalls and a thick wool coat.
“Look like it’s gonna snow to you?” Philip Worthy was sixteen, tall despite the limp that made people think he was shorter, but not as brawny as most of the men in that town of lumberjacks and millworkers.
“It’s not going to snow.”
Graham, twenty-five, was what in many ways Philip aspired to be: strong, quietly wise, the man of his house. While Philip felt he needed to be polite and conversational to ingratiate himself with people, Graham seemed to say the minimum necessary and always won respect. Philip had known him for two years, and he still wanted to figure out how a fellow did that.
“Colder’n I thought it’d be,” Philip said. “Sometimes that means snow.”
Graham understood his companion’s dread of snow. He shook his head. “It’s cold, but it ain’t going to snow. It’s October.”
Philip nodded, shoulders hunched against the cold.
Graham laid his rifle on the ground, then took off his coat. “Here, put it on.”
“No, really, I’ll be all right. I don’t want you to get—”
“Put the damn coat on.” Graham smiled. “I’ve got more meat on my bones anyway.”
“Thanks.” Philip placed his rifle beside Graham’s. The jacket was big on him, the sleeves extending beyond his hands. He knew he looked foolish, but it was as good as wearing gloves. He wouldn’t be able to hold the rifle, but that seemed fine, since he didn’t expect he’d need to.
“Who do you think that was in the Model T on Sunday?” Philip asked.
“Don’t know.” Neither of them had been at the post on Sunday, when two other guards had seen a shiny new Ford drive as far as the fallen tree would allow. The guard post was too far away to get a good look at the driver, who never emerged from his automobile. The fedora told them it was a man, but that was all. The man had apparently read the sign, stopped to think for no longer than a moment, then turned around and driven away. It was the only sighting of an outsider since the town had closed itself off.
Commonwealth sat about fifty miles northeast of Seattle, or maybe a hundred—no one seemed to know except the town’s founder, Charles Worthy, and those who transported the town’s timber. To the east were the jagged peaks of the Cascades, close enough to be seen on a clear day but far enough to disappear when the clouds were low and thick. On those days, the town seemed to be cut off from the rest of the earth. Miles to the west was the open sea, the confluence of Puget Sound to the south, the Strait of Georgia to the north, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the west, the point where all three combined and wrapped their cold embrace around the San Juan Islands. But the sea was just far enough away, blocked by the thick forest, that it might as well not have been there at all.
Commonwealth was no ordinary town, and that helped explain why it appeared on no maps, as if the rest of the civilized world preferred to ignore its existence. It had no mayor, no postmaster, no sheriff. It had no prison, no taxman, no train station, no rail lines. No church, no telephones, no hospital. No saloon, no nickelodeon. Commonwealth had pretty much nothing but a timber mill, homes for the workers, plenty of land from which to tear down more trees, and the few trappings necessary to support the mill, such as a general store and a doctor’s office. To shop for items the store didn’t sell, to visit the moving pictures, or to attend traditional church services, people went to Timber Falls, fifteen miles to the southwest. But no one from town was allowed to leave anymore, and no one was allowed to come in.
“Think the driver will come back?” Philip asked. The wind blew his thin brown hair across his forehead.
Graham thought for a moment, his face appearing immovable as his blue-green eyes focused on the base of the hill. “No, not after he saw the sign. If it was someone who really wanted to come in, he would’ve tried. Probably just somebody on mill business who didn’t know about the quarantine.”
Philip nodded, appreciating Graham’s certainty.
Philip had grown up with neither father nor siblings, dragged throughout the West by an itinerant mother until the accident that left him in the Worthys’ care. And when his new family had moved to Commonwealth two years ago to start this bold experiment, he had quickly befriended Graham, who hadn’t realized how much he’d missed his own younger brothers until he met Philip.
Graham, like many millworkers, had run away from his home too young, chased off by a drunk father with whom he had violently clashed one time too many. He had been about Philip’s age when he’d left his home in Kansas, and sometimes when he looked at Philip, he was amazed that he himself had been so headstrong, so foolish, to venture out into the world at such an overwhelmed age. Somehow he had survived, survived bloody strikes and stints in jail and fights with cops, and here he was, a foreman at a respectable mill. Though he had his own family to care for now, he liked teaching Philip the things he’d learned from his older brother, to hunt his first deer, catch his first fish, navigate the trails that cut through the endless forest.
In truth, Graham didn’t feel so certain that the man in the automobile wouldn’t return, but the mere sound of his own calm voice was reassuring. This was why Graham had missed having younger brothers, he realized—they made you feel almost as strong as the image they looked up to.
Philip and Graham’s first stint as guards, four days earlier, had been uneventful. They had stood there for the ten long hours, silent for stretches and chatting when the boredom became too great. Wondering aloud how long the flu would last, swapping stories of past illnesses and ailments. Philip had even proposed a small wager as to how long the quarantine would last, but Graham had lightly chastised him for being indelicate. Philip regretted the comment, felt young and stupid. But other than that the time had passed slowly, the sky gradually darkening, the mists descending from the formless clouds above, leaving the two watchmen damp and tired and longing for their warm homes, where they would have nothing interesting to share with their families over the supper table.
“So how’s ‘class’ coming?” Graham asked, minutes or hours later.
“Class is fine. Ask me anything you’d like to know about interest payments.”
“I would like to know nothing at all, thank you very much.”
Philip was Charles Worthy’s apprentice, being trained in the business side of the mill, bred for the same job that Charles himself had held in his father’s mill, the one he had disgustedly turned his back on only two years ago.
“You honestly like sittin’ in a chair all day?” Graham asked.
“Wouldn’t know what else to compare it to.”
Philip wondered if Graham looked down on his desk work, but with his damaged body, Philip was a bad candidate for labor of a more physical nature. He gave a surreptitious glance at Graham’s missing finger, the one he’d lost in a mill accident some years ago, and figured his wasn’t such a bad lot to draw.
Just the other day, Philip had helped calculate what the mill would save if it switched over from gang saws to band saws, whose thinner blades would mean losing less of the timber to sawdust. It had been challenging work, but when he was finished, he felt he’d contributed something of value to the mill, and his father’s soft-spoken compliment was still ringing in his ears.
“How’s your little girl doing?” Philip asked.
“She’s great,” Graham said with a slight smile. “Been crawlin’ all over the house lately. Amelia’s gotta keep her eyes on her all the time now.”
“How long till she talks?”
“A few months yet, at least.”
“How long till she chops down trees like her old man?”
“Till hell freezes over.”
“I don’t know,” Philip said, “she’s got that lumberjack look to her.”
“That lumberjack look? What’s that?”
Philip shrugged. “She drools a lot. Burps. Kinda smells sometimes.”
Graham nodded, smirking.
“So you get any sleep, or is she still up all night?”
“I sleep when I can.”
“Like when you’re out here standing guard.”
“I was not asleep last time. I was resting my eyes and ignoring you. It’s an important skill a man develops after he has a wife and kid. Trust me on this.
“Speaking of which,” Graham continued after a brief pause, looking at Philip from the corner of his eye, “I keep seeing you talking with that Metzger girl.”
Philip shrugged unconvincingly. “She’s my sister’s friend.”
“So how come I keep seeing you and her and no sister?”
It took an extra second for Philip to come up with a retort. “What, a guy can’t talk to a girl?”
Graham smiled. “Boy, I hope you’re less obvious with her than you are with me.”
Minutes of silence had passed before they saw someone at the base of the hill.
They saw him through the tree trunks first, hints of light brown and tan flashing every other second through that tangle of bark. Each of them stiffened, breath held, as they waited to see if a figure would emerge or if they had imagined it, if it was some trick of light.
The figure turned the corner and looked up the hill, saw the town in the distance. Between him and the town stood Philip and Graham, though he seemed not to notice them.
“You see that, too, right?” Philip asked.
“I see it.”
The figure started walking toward them.
“Read the sign,” Graham quietly commanded the stranger. “Read the sign.”
Indeed, after a couple of seconds, the figure reached the sign and stopped. Stopped for an unusually long time, as if he could barely read and there were one too many big words written there. Then the man looked up at them. Graham made sure his rifle was visible, standing up beside him, his hand under the barrel so that it was pointing away from him.
Philip hadn’t looked at the sign in days yet he had memorized what it said.
ABSOLUTELY NO ENTRY ALLOWED!
On Account of the Outbreak of INFLUENZA
This Town Under Strict QUARANTINE.
This Area Under Constant Watch of ARMED Guards.
Neither STRANGER Nor FRIEND May Pass Beyond This Marker.
May God Protect You.
After reading the sign the man had some sort of brief spasm, one of his hands reaching to his face. Then he stepped up to the fallen tree and started climbing over it. It was an impressive tree, and it took him a
moment to ascend its thick trunk. Then he was past it and walking toward them again.
“He’s still coming,” Philip said helplessly, trying not to panic. He hurriedly rolled up the sleeves of Graham’s coat, wondering why he felt fid-gety and nervous when Graham seemed to become even more still than usual.
The man walked with a slight limp, wincing when he moved his right leg. It made his progress slower but somehow more definite. His clothes suggested a uniform of some kind, with stripes on one sleeve. As the man approached, Philip and Graham saw the back end of a rifle poking up over his right shoulder.
He’s a soldier, Philip thought, confused.
He was nearly halfway to them. No more than eighty yards away.
“Stop right there!” Graham shouted. “This town is under quarantine! You can’t come any closer!”
The man did as he was told. He had dark and uncombed hair that appeared somewhat longer than a typical soldier’s. He looked like he hadn’t shaved in a couple of days, and there was a piece of cloth tied around his right thigh, colored black from what might have been dried blood. His uniform was dirty all over the legs and was smeared with mud across parts of the chest.
Then the soldier sneezed.
“Please!” The man needed to raise his voice in order to be heard over the distance, but the effort of doing so seemed almost too much for him. “I’m starving. I just need a little something to eat . . .”
What’s a soldier doing out here, Philip wanted to ask, but he kept the thought to himself.
“You can’t come up here, buddy,” Graham replied. “The sign said, we’re under a quarantine. We can’t let anyone in.”
“I don’t care if I get sick.” The man shook his head at them. He was young, closer in age to Philip than to Graham. He had some sort of an accent, not foreign but from some other part of the country. New England, or maybe New York—Philip wasn’t sure. The man’s jaw was hard and his face bony and angular, the type of face Philip’s mother would have told him you couldn’t trust, though Philip never knew why.
“I’m starving—I need something to eat. I’ve been out in the woods two days now. There was an accident—”
“It’s not you getting sick we’re worried about.” Graham’s voice was still strong, almost bullying. “We’re the only town around here that isn’t sick yet, and we aim to keep it that way. Now head on back down that road.”
The soldier looked behind him halfheartedly, then back at Graham. “How far’s the next town?”
“’Bout fifteen miles,” Graham replied. Commonwealth was not on the way to or from any other town—the road led to Commonwealth and ended there. So where had the soldier come from?
“Fifteen miles? I haven’t eaten in two days. It’ll be dark in a few hours.”
He coughed. Loudly, thickly. How far does breath travel? Philip wondered.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
1. In what ways does Thomas Mullen use foreshadowing throughout the novel?
2. The Commonwealth quarantine is rife with moral ramifications. What are its consequences? Was Charles’ decision reasonable? What would you have done in his place?
3. The gauze mask has a ubiquitous presence throughout the story. What is its symbolic significance?
4. The flu often causes its victims to experience delusions. What other examples of delusion, literal or figurative, can you find throughout the novel?
5. Rebecca, Elsie, Tamara and other women in the novel have important influences on their male loved ones. What do these women have in common? In what ways do they exert their influence?
6. What is Frank’s significance? Why does Philip grow so attached to him?
7. Does the relationship between Frank and the C.O. resonate with Philip and Graham’s relationship? If so, how?
8. Were you surprised by Philip’s recovery? Why do you think Mullen allows him (and the rest of the Worthy family) to survive?
9. How has Philip developed by the end of the novel? Has his character progressed or regressed? Having been “stripped of so many things that he thought had defined who he was” (page 387), how, then, should we view his prior experiences?
10. Philip initially calls Graham a murderer for shooting the first soldier, but ultimately ends up shooting Bartrum to save Graham’s life. Is there a difference between their acts? Where does Philip and Graham’s relationship stand by the end of the novel?
11. A prominent motif throughout the novel is that of starting over after experiencing loss. Bearing this in mind, is your interpretation of the ending optimistic or pessimistic?
12. Would you have responded to the crisis more like Philip or like Graham?
13. Do you think Philip and Graham’s behavior differed in part because of their situations? Does that make their decisions about the soldier more or less sympathetic/understandable?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I just completed reading this book and found it compelling, especially now with the Ebola scare in our country. As friends, family, and I talk about our feelings and fears concerning Ebola, I am reminded of the feelings and fears of characters in this story. It is not hard to imagine their desperate desire to protect their loved ones, even at the cost of others. This is a timely read, indeed.
Inspired by reports of remote towns who attempted to escape the Spanish flu during the pandemic of 1918 by sealing themselves off, Mullen has created and peopled a mill town in the Cascade mountains. The tale is highly believable, and reveals some of the tensions and moral dilemmas raised by pandemics-a recurring challenge to the human race. It's also an interesting read, told from the viewpoint of a sensitive boy coming of age. An excellent companion book to this is Geraldine Brooks's "Year of Wonders," about an earlier pandemic: the great plague (bubonic) of 1666. Also inspired by history, it depicts a small English town that also sealed itself off-but in its case, to contain the plague already within its borders, so as to avoid spreading it to others. The two books thus represent moral opposites. I would high recommend either or both for book club reading and discussion.
I really liked this book. The whole premise is so interesting...a reverse quarantine on a whole town. I am interested in what the readers feel about the ending... I am still on the fence as to whether it does the book the justice it deserves. GREAT book club reading...there are so many debatable issues.
The basic story is wonderful -- a small logging town in the Pacific Northwest quarantines itself in the midst of the 1918 outbreak of influenza with tragic results. This novel is, however, very character driven, and so it takes awhile to get into the story because the author takes a good deal of time to introduce the players, set the scene (in its historical context, where there is a lot happening), and then he gets down to the business at hand.Once the story got rolling, however, I was hooked and couldn't stop listening. It's one of those books that really makes you stop and take a look at yourself as a human being, and I think that's why I liked it so very much. The whole time, and in different situations, I would find myself wondering what I would do if I were in that little town, faced with what these people were faced with. While we're very far removed from 1918, after Katrina, I've been wondering a lot about what people do in an abnormal situation just to survive that they probably would not do in their normal lives. It's really something to think about, and in that sense, the book is pertinent to modern times.I think the book went on too long, though; perhaps the last part of the book could have been skipped, making it a bit more poignant and more focused on the effects of the quarantine itself. Other than that, if you read this one, beware that it will take some time to get into, but once you're there, it's wonderful.
Commonwealth is a small mining town in the Pacific Northwest. It was created as a haven from the mining practices in the rest of the country and the owner (and founder of Commonwealth) treats his workers well and pays them a good wage. Everyone in Commonwealth helps each other, looks out for each other. It's early in the new century. 1918 to be exact.Rumors start spreading. Flu without a cure. Flu that kills in a matter of days. Flu that spreads like wildfire. The town decides to quarantine itself. Roads are closed, guards are posted. They ration supplies, grow food--nobody wants to risk traveling to the nearest city. Then a solider shows up at the roadblock. On duty are Philip Worthy, adopted son of the town's founder, and his best friend Graham. The soldier is desperate. So are the men. The result of this meeting affects not only the men present, but the town as well. And what happens if the quarantine doesn't keep the flu out? What then would the encounter with the soldier mean?
This novel is an exploration of what happens to a community of people during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. This was interesting to me because my knowledge of this time period was almost non-existant. How many people today even know there was a Spanish Flu epidemic, or that during WWI people fought over the U.S.'s involvement in it, or of the union/management struggles of the time? These are all covered in this novel, which asks "what if a town quarantined itself, cutting itself off from teh outside world?" That's what the town does in this novel, which gives the author a chance to make a study of the characters who have to enforce this quarantine. This book was definately more character focused, I found it very slow reading and dry and unexciting. It's heavy on historical detail and like I said it's an interesting period in U.S. history so to learn about that this book would be slightly more interesting than a textbook. But maybe not by much.
This was a promising first book. I look forward to his next. A very clever premise and I had a lot of fun reading it.
Historical novel set during WWI that gets too sluggish and eventually too boring with its obvious political commentary and skin-deep allegories and parallels. The setting promised much more.
It is somewhat surprising that one of the pivotal historical events of the 20th century, the Spanish Flu, has been almost completely ignored in contemporary literature. To my knowledge, only John Barry's outstanding work, The Great Influenza, tackles the subject with scope and depth. This novel explores the outbreak of the Spanish Flu from the standpoint of an isolated Northwest sawmill town. Commonwealth, Washington was founded and managed as a sort of commune in response to the bitter labor unrest felt throughout the region during the era. With outbreak of the flu, the town counsel elects to enforce a quarantine from the outside world. As outsiders attempt to enter, a riveting story of survival and human nature emerges. With respect to the subject matter, the writing and pace of the narrative, I have no complaints. I enjoyed reading the novel and appreciated the author's ability to shed light on a subject and an era in our history that is seldom addressed. My only complaint is somewhat personal, though to my mind important. Much of the novel centers on the status of Commonwealth as a sawmill town and its connection to the forest products of the region. This being the case, it is almost inexcusable that the author would consistently use incorrect nomenclature when referring to aspects of the industry. Being in the forest products industry, it rankles when the terms "timber", "logs" and "lumber" are used interchangably or incorrectly. Each has a specific meaning. Timber refers to trees standing in the woods. Logs are trees that have been severed but not finally manufactured. Lumber is the finished product of a sawmill. So, when the author consistently refers to the sawmill selling its timber, he is misspeaking. Sawmills buy timber, cut it into logs and manufacture it into lumber. Likewise, references to lumber camps should instead refer to logging camps. This might seem a small matter, but if an author elects to make forest products a major part of his story line, it is incumbent upon him to do so accurately. It would certainly seem to be simple enough to have his manuscript vetted by someone with some knowledge of the subject. If an author is so casual and sloppy with what would seems to be such a major part of his story line, how can I assume that many of the other facts or constructs of the novel are accurate? I'm aware that this is a novel and not a history book, but this does not excuse blatant inaccuracies when applied to the background of the novel.
This starts out slowly ¿ achingly so. I gave up twice but on the third attempt, finally made it past the first third and that¿s when the thing really takes off and a corking good tale emerges. The characters are remarkably well done, rounded and real, the writing in general is tremendous; twice, I went to bed so angry with outrage and indignation that I couldn¿t sleep which wasn¿t a good experience for me but is testament to the author¿s a ability to tell a story.
This offering, by this first time author, just didn't work for me at all. The plot was thin to say the least, and characters development was even thinner. "Pa, do you think the flu will come here too", must have been said 50 times. This work won the James Fenimore Cooper award, wow I've lost all respect for that award. Philp Roth is on that list, Mullen couldn't dream of even being mentioned in the same breath as one of the greatest living American authors. 15 readers gave this a rating of 5. I just don't get how one could get it that kind of rating. I read or listen to over 100 books a year, and this work is definately one of the duds of all-time. Sorry Mr. Mullen.
This is a book for a RL book group. I took time off in the middle to read other books. I got to a point where bad things were going to happen and I just didn't want to face it. I kept putting the book down and delaying my reading. Its not a bad book at all, in fact the characters seem vulnerable so I didn't want to watch them suffer.It is set in a small town that has been built for logging and the local mill, very bare bones, few amenities. It is in the Pacific Northwest, the fictional town of Commonwealth, Washington. The man who started it wanted to run a mill his way, and treat his workers decently. It is during a time of labor strife, Red scares, and the end of WWI. The flu is also stalking the land, and people are dying fast and horribly.The isolation of the town will not protect them, if they associate with others by allowing them into Commonwealth, or by visiting other towns themselves. They decide as a town to enact a quarantine and prevent ingress or egress until the flu is gone.The quarantine sets up a conflict when a sick soldier comes to the log gate and wants in. He is lost, cold, and starving.There are 2 young men on guard. A mill worker in his 20s with a pregnant wife, and small daughter. Graham remembers the loss of an earlier love, and the violence of labor strikes and the mill owners. He vows to protect his wife and child and his town.The other guard, Philip is the adopted son of the mill owner Charles Worthy. He is only 16, and he looks up to Graham. Phil had a rootless, fatherless life with his wayward mother until the car crash that killed her, her current low life paramour and crippled and orphaned him. He wants to prove worthy of the love of his adopted family, and the trust of the town.Both guards are feeling inadequate and they express their anxiety in different ways. Graham is aggressive and will fight. Philip is afraid and wants to avoid making a mistake.Graham shoots the soldier who refuses to stop advancing. Philip is trying to reason with the soldier, to get him to stop. He freezes at the crucial moment and Graham is the one who acts alone. The action drives Phil and Graham apart. It also introduces an immoral element into the town. Its OK to deny help to strangers, ifs OK to kill to protect themselves. Eventually the townspeople use that reasoning and unfeeling immorality against each other. Once the line is crossed it is easier to justify everything that comes after.Philip is standing guard alone and a second soldier arrives at the gate. Philip decides to hide him in one of the empty cabins at the edge of town. He was going to let him sleep, warm up, and bring him food. Once the soldier was rested he was supposed to leave. But Philip is discovered and he and the new soldier are kept in the house together in an internal quarantine. They are supposed to be released in 48 hours if they aren't sick. Phil is fine and so is the soldier, but they decide to keep him prisoner.The town starts to break down when the flu gets in. The town also has to deal with the actions of a nearby city. They want to shut the mill, kill competition, and prevent Charles from implementing new labor practices.The writing is light and smooth, and it just flows. The story is interesting, and the characters are well done. There is a lot of great information about the conditions during WWI, the labor issues, and the effect of the flu.
The audio version of this book is wonderful and the author's note at the end was so helpful. I kept wondering how he could imagine all of this in such a believable way but his description at the very end had the solution. But what an incredible book---how completely sad that history keeps repeating itself. We just don't seem to be able to put history to use, or to even remember it, so that we don't keep doing the same things, over and over and over. It was fiction that seemed all too real.
The Short of It:The Last Town on Earth is an interesting story about trust, right and wrong and what people are willing to do when lives are on the line.The Rest of It:A friend recommend this book to me well over a year ago. In my mind, I thought it would be more dystopian in feel, but it wasn¿t that kind of book at all. The story is about Commonwealth, a small town in the Pacific Northwest that gets hit with the flu during the 1918 epidemic that swept through the nation. In an effort to protect the town, the town folk decide to enact a quarantine. This means that the residents must stay within the town, and no one from outside of the town can come in.At first, this works fine. The town is self-sufficient to a degree. There is plenty of food and other supplies and most of the folks feel that the quarantine is a necessary precaution. But as the flu ravages other towns and there is talk of war spies, the people of Commonwealth realize that they may have to protect their town from more than just the flu.While on guard duty, Philip & Graham encounter a soldier looking for shelter and food. Graham¿s handling of the situation disturbs Philip and causes him to replay the incident over and over again in his mind. The encounter affects him so deeply, that when he is faced with a similar situation, he makes a decision that puts the entire town at risk.The story was a bit slow for me. It took a good 200 pages for me to get into it but there was something about the writing that kept me going. The depiction of the town itself was spot on. I could easily picture the setting in my mind and the main characters and the situations they faced were well-developed. I had some issues with the development of some of the other characters though. Their demeanor did not match their age, but in a frontier town in the early 1900¿s, that is to be expected. Young people held more responsibility in those days.Although this story deals with a pandemic it¿s not like any of the other novels I¿ve read that deal with the same topic. The flu itself takes a backseat to the other themes within the novel which include, fierce loyalty, the will to survive, trust and honor. Not a page-turner but I liked it.
Multi-layered morality tale with a compelling plot. I hope we are not faced with an epidemic requiring quarantine in our time or our children's. Also, I learned that there was an active anti-war movement during WWI. Excellent debut novel.
In 1918, Commonwealth is a young logging town in rural Washington, founded by a mill owner and his socialist wife sickened by anti-union violence. They are determined to give workers a greater share in profits and improved living and work conditions, a stance which has made them hated by mill owners in nearby towns. When the Spanish Flu breaks out, the town votes to isolate itself to avoid contagion, stationing armed men to guard the road. While ignorance of the flu's cause leads to tragedies within the town, the sheriff and the largest mill owner from a nearby town decide to attack, the former suspicious of the town's patriotism and the latter determined to destroy the town's lure to his own workers.Interesting historical fiction, although the characterizations tend to be limited somewhat to good guys and bad guys. Some actions of the main characters, particularly those townsfolk who don't approve of the temporary quarantine, make no sense and seem to be included just to raise tension. However, the story kept me wanting to read to find out what happened, and I'll read more by this author.
I loved this book and put in my top ten favorites! The story draws you and and doesn't let you go. It also peaked my curiosity about how the spanish flu impacted our world but also what conscientious obejectors were during WW1. This is a story for everyone.
This is a story about Commonwealth, a little mill community at the end of a road in the forests of Washington state. It is 1918, WWI is drawing to a close, and the Spanish Flu epidemic is in full swing in America, but has not yet come to Commonwealth. So the residents decide to quarantine themselves. No one comes in and no one leaves. But two different soldiers show up at two different times, under suspicious circumstances and things start to fall apart. I found this book very disappointing after hearing about all the praise it received. While the premise of the book sounded good in summary, Mr. Mullen has a very difficult time getting to the point, inserting LOTS of pointless description on every page. I don¿t care about how someone runs their finger around the rim of their cup or how tendrils of hair flutter in the breeze. It doesn¿t contribute to the story at all. Without all that description, this story could have been told in half the number of pages and been a much better read.
Interesting, off-beat story of a town during the influenza epidemic of 1918. The town decides to quarantine itself in the hopes of keeping the flu out. How this affects relationships within and without makes for an unusual tale and an unusual protagonist.
Very interesting and thought provoking. The book is set in the town of Commonwealth during the flu epidemic of 1918. The town decides to do a reverse quarentine with armed guards and all. Will this keep the flu out of the town? Eventually the town turns on itself. I can't decide how I feel about the decisions they made. What would I have done?
I can't believe how much I wanted to read this book. I coveted it when it was in hardback, read reviews of it obsessively, and finally allowed myself to buy it in paperback. Then it sat on my shelves for a few months because of all the high-priority stuff that had stacked up in front of it. I loved the concept (quarantined Pacific Northwest town in the time of the Spanish Influenza outbreak of 1918), the setting, the reviews I'd read.But, strangely, I didn't really enjoy the book. For one, Mullen's writing style is not my thing. He tends to say hokey things like "bullets slammed into flesh" and begins a lot of sentences with "Many a night" which feels somewhat stilted and archaic. He'll repeat the same word several times within a few sentences or paragraphs (e.g. "banter"). It's not a bad book, but it doesn't feel as polished or as meaningful as I would have expected, given all the good press. There is something about it, maybe the overemphasis on Douglas firs, that makes it obvious that the writer doesn't live 'round here (Pac NW). There is no dearth of grimness in the novel, either, and a surprising amount of violence--neither of which is bad on its own but feels harsh when following a lot of not-terribly-well-written chapters.The historical fiction aspect is not bad, and feels well-researched, though the speaking patterns of the characters doesn't feel quite dated enough to seem 1918-ish. The plot is good, and is the driving force of the book. It twists enough to make this a page-turner, almost enough to make it feel like a horror novel in a few places. I had recommended that my book club read this book a few months ago, but would probably not recommend it now. It's just not special enough.
A morally challenging, but NOT stuffy, book, if you let yourself consider the choices these folks had to make when faced with the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. A small mill town in the US Northwest votes to impose a reverse quarantine to keep the flu out and then has to deal with the consequences of tht decision. A good read.
I enjoy reading about events that have shaped history, especially the more tragic ones. This is what led me to pick up The Last Town on Earth. This book about the 1918 flu pandemic manages to cover a frequently sensationalized topic¿pandemics in general¿ in a thought provoking and sensitive manner.Thomas Mullen depicts a town in Washington that in all out effort to protect itself from the pandemic that had been sweeping the nation, shut itself off from the rest of the world. Initially the plan seems to work, but soon a solider fresh from the battlefields of World War I comes to the town and demands to be let it. This is where the basis of the conflict in the book begins as the people in the town struggle morally with their desire to save themselves and help the veteran at the same time. ¿'He¿s still coming,'¿ Philip said helplessly, trying not to panic. He hurriedly rolled up the sleeves of Graham¿s coat, wondering why he felt fid-gety and nervous when Graham seemed to become even more still than usual."Mullen manages to skillfully stitch together real events like the massacre in Everett into the background of the tale without exposing the fictional world that he has created. Despite the subject matter, the story is not depressing. Instead, it manages to instill hope that humanity will do the right thing when presented with a moral conflict. Each character seems real and and the reader can easily sympathize with the decisions that are being wrestled with and encourages the reader to mull over how they would react in a similar situation (such as the recent swine flu panic).The only criticism I can offer is that the writing style can be difficult. This is Mullen¿s first book and his lack of experience is evident. The writing can be stilted and is riddled with cliches-but not so horrible as to be a deterrent. The character development and his ability to create a intriguing story line more than make up for his lack of polish, something that could be easily fixed by a strong editor.
I read this novel for my book club without seeing a synopsis first. As I began to read, I thought initially it might be another post-apocalypse novel in the genre of The Stand but as I got further into it I realized it was actually historical in nature and as such was somewhat interesting. However, I felt the author didn't develop his characters deeply enough. I found too many unanswered questions and unexplained actions - especially dealing with Graham. The ending also was very anticlimactic and disappointing. I felt like I was reading a slightly more imaginative textbook than a novel.
This book is so good!!!! It is definately one that is extremely hard to put down. Absolutely love it!!!!!!!