A photograph. A one-way trip to Mars. A Galápagos tortoise. A carnival quack promising a magical cure-all using electricity. One of the most amazing things about life is how we are all connected by the strangest and yet most mundane of objects. This is generally most apparent when there is an outbreak of illness--gee, look at how many people touched that doorknob and then their faces and then holy Moses! It's influenza galore! However, this magical object story has been done before, and I wondered how much I would care for it this time around in Midnight at the Electric. After rearranging my face after the final, heart-rending cryfest, I was filled with wonder at how such a relatively short story left such a big impression.
I had never read anything by Anderson before Midnight at the Electric (I am going to remedy that posthaste; I promise!), so I wasn't sure what to expect. The story opens as Adri prepares to leave the flooded remains of Miami for the flat fields of Kansas. It's been a long time since the world found out the hard way that yes, global warming is real. The seas rose, sweeping away coastal cities with their pretty boardwalks and glamorous beaches and high rise hotels. Humanity began to once again turn their hopes to the stars. Now, a colony has been established on Mars, and Adri has passed the rigorous selection process and is a future Colonist. The training facility is in Kansas, and the company sponsoring the trip located Adri's only living relative, Lily, in nearby Wichita.
To say that Adri is reclusive, introverted, and curmudgeonly would be a slight understatement. Her cousin Lily chats up a storm, delivers bon mots with a wink and a smile, and has dementia. Sunny, bright Lily sometimes forgets how old she is or what she is doing or other equally existentially critical things. However, Lily maintains her dignity. I never pitied her--I simply loved her, and Adri grows to feel the same way. Plus, there's the enormous tortoise in the backyard. Her name is simply Galapagos. And she's related to a mystery enfolded in a letter from a mysterious Lenore to an equally mysterious Beth.
Catherine Godspeed and her little sister Beezie are suffocating. The dust blanketing Kansas does not confine itself to the ground, but it crawls into corners and flows into lungs. Beezie can't stop coughing, and she's dying. Cathy knows they have to get out, but that would mean leaving Ellis, her friend with whom she is also in love. There's also the mystery of the postcard from Lenore and the fact that they've got a very large tortoise tethered in the backyard.
After Teddy died in the Great War, Lenore's family has tiptoed around their cavernous estate. Everyone and everything is broken, with no chance of being put to rights again. To escape the press of grief, Lenore writes letters to her childhood friend Beth, with whom she hopes to reunite in America. But Beth doesn't write back. Undaunted, Lenore continues to write, and chronicles her fateful meeting with James, a soldier disfigured from the war.
All of these women possess a stubborn, tenacious belief in some truth--a truth that turns out to be far more pliable than they had ever thought. Adri believes that she's best on her own, with no one to love or to love her. Cathy believes that taking an electric cure will heal Beezie's dust pneumonia and they won't have to leave home. Lenore believes that once she arrives in America, she and Beth will continue on just as they had been ten years before. The realization of being wrong will shake them to the core and form them into someone better. The mutability of life is as transformative as it is terrifying.
I dearly wished that this book would not end. Anderson leaves just enough ends unraveled for the reader to have something to ponder. None of the girls have a fairy tale ending. Linked through time and space by a picture, some letters, and Galapagos herself, Lenore, Cathy, and Adri embark on journeys to find love, life, and ultimately, themselves.
Absolutely stunning. Everyone should read this.
I received an ARC of this title from the publisher.