Phoenix from the Ashes: The Literature of the Remade World

By Carl B. Yoke | Go to book overview

10
THE DEATH OF THE HEART IN
LEVEL 7

Carolyn Wendell

Mordecai Roshwald Level 7 ( 1959) has at least two distinctions: after the initial reviews and a British television drama based upon the story, it has been almost unanimously ignored--perhaps because it is surely the bleakest of the Cold War period's speculations about the devastation of a nuclear holocaust. And that is its second claim to a unique position. Of all the tales of World War III, most left a few likeable survivors after the bomb was dropped. Only Nevil Shute On the Beach made it clear that the world would be empty of life shortly after the last page (and one reviewer commented that Level 7 made On the Beach "look like giddy optimism"). 1 Level 7 projects a world where not only are there no people left, there are no animals, no plants, no landscape that even looks earthly. Nothing is left but layers of ashes and some pavement aboveground and some rotting corpses in a "shelter" below. Its apocalyptic vision seems more in keeping with a contemporary vision projected by the films Testament ( 1983) and Threads ( 1984). The much discussed The Day After ( 1983) seems much less grim.

Also, as literature, Level 7 is less than totally successful: the literary reader expects character, and there is very little here. Even the narrator is only marginally and occasionally sympathetic, and he is certainly never very interesting as an individual. The leisure reader expects action and suspense, but even the war is boring--the narrator pushes some buttons, sees some colors on a screen, and then it is over (no mushroom cloud, no screams, no panic in the streets). While there is reason for this lack of drama, the novel does not make for stimulating reading. To the audience of 1959, Level 7 may well have seemed a didactic extreme ( Damon Knight thought so and even concluded that it was not

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