Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

All the World's a Stage (for the Plague) Emily St. John Mandel's Novel about a Pandemic That Nearly Kills Everyone Is One of the Best of 2014

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

All the World's a Stage (for the Plague) Emily St. John Mandel's Novel about a Pandemic That Nearly Kills Everyone Is One of the Best of 2014

Article excerpt

"STATION ELEVEN"

By Emily St. John Mandel

Knopf ($24.95).

It is a rare thing when a novel appears on nearly all the "Best of" 2014 year-end lists during the same year when its masterfully crafted plot is synchronized with one of the biggest news stories dominating the headlines.

Welcome to "Station Eleven," Emily St. John Mandel's best-seller in which 99 percent of the population has been wiped out within hours or - for the truly unlucky - days. The culprit is the mysterious Georgia Flu, unknowingly brought to the United States via virus-carrying airline passengers from Russia. ("But everyone knows what happened. The new strain of swine flu and then the flights out of Moscow, those planes full of patient zeros ..")

Enough similarities abound with the fictitious Georgia Flu and the real-life Ebola virus to pique the interest of any wannabe conspiracy theorist. Any level-headed reader will raise an eyebrow and wonder what if . could this?

Ms. Mandel's writing is precise and seemingly accurate as she describes everyday life on the cusp of a pandemic - or, what one would imagine life to be like in such an environment. After all, we've had enough hyped-up, media-frenzied scares of our own (see: Y2K, avian flu, three inches of snow in Pittsburgh) that a pandemic from a flu virus seems very well within our scope of reality.

In "Station Eleven," people communicate primarily via text messages, play baseball under bright lights, fly commercial airlines, and try to stock up on enough toilet paper and groceries just before a snowstorm arrives. If this is an apocalyptic society, then the apocalypse is here, and it is us. These are people we can understand and relate to. It is chillingly effective, and it works exceptionally well.

One wintry evening in Toronto, legendary actor Arthur Leander collapses onstage while performing "King Lear. …

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