- Things We Didn't See Coming
- April 27th, 2010
Things We Didn't See Coming, by Steven Amsterdam, was a difficult book to read. Not because of its length (its under 200 pages) or the content, but because of Amsterdam's approach. The premise is great-- the book, a collection of linked stories, follows an unamed young man who fights to survive after living through cataclysmic events. For the most part the writing is strong, and many of the stories had engaging hooks (in one the protagonist is dtuck in a tree as a man sick with a deadly flu rummaging through his supplies; in another, he becomes an assistant and lover to an erotic senator) but there was a sense of vagueness to the story that frustrated me.
Let's compare this to another short book of linked stories that chronicle a disaster-- Ron Currie's God is Dead. Both books have jumps in time between stories, and both sometimes skirt around explaining the finer details of their world. In my eyes, Currie's book gets away with this lack of explanation by having a strong setting-off point: God, disguised as a human, literally dies in Sudan. From this we can understand even the most bizarre premises Currie throws at us-- parents who worship their children, bloody conflicts about textbook philosophy-- because they are all reactions to the same event which we are shown.
In Amsterdam's book, however, little of the post-apocalyptic world is fleshed out. Occasionally a character pipes up and mentions Barricades and the like, but this is rare, and as I read I thought: who acts this way?In the middle of massive disasters why doesn't anyone stop to explain, or even ask, someone else what the hell is going on?
That's my major quibble with this book-- it is reluctant to round out the world much beyond its character. In a simple domestic tale this wouldn't be a problem, but that approach is harder to understand in a book about the apocalypse. All this said, I would recommend this book for those that can look past the befuddling vagueness. I especially enjoyed the final story, "Best Medicine", which resolved the father/son dynamic that underlies the whole book.