Cailin Reads: Pines, Wayward, The Last Town by Blake Crouch

Yes, technically this is three books. But since only one of them is a new read for me I’m only counting it as a single title for the purposes of my annual reading goal. The other two were merely a refresher.

I read the first book in this trilogy before the TV series started, but it was one of the rare cases where my commitment not to buy books got in the way of my reading. The local library had books one and two, but not the conclusion. So I read those, but got sidetracked and forgot to watch for the third to become available.

When I finally did get The Last Town, via Kindle Unlimited, I realized that watching the show had muddled the storyline in my mind and made it hard to just pick up where I left off. Fortunately the whole trilogy is available so I simply started over.

The basic premise of both the show and the books is the same – rich weirdo kidnaps people and puts them into suspension for centuries as a sort of Noah’s ark for mankind, awakening them to live under constant surveillance in a reproduction of Small Town, USA, unaware of the time that has passed or what lurks outside the fence that surrounds the town. But the story progresses along two very different lines.

Re-reading the first book, I remembered just how much I enjoyed it. The book is far better than the show, which lost my interest some time late in the first season. The development of the mystery surrounding the town progresses effortlessly and feels far less contrived than the same journey did on screen, beginning with the inexplicable aging of the missing agent Burke is searching for which was scaled back in the television version in favor of sexual tension and visual appeal. And the depth of print also allowed the psychological impact of the situation in which the characters live, both in the coerced Norman Rockwell lifestyle of the town and the barriers to honesty created by the post-apocalyptic reality outside the gates, to take a central role that doesn’t readily translate to television.

I devoured the second and third books. I think the whole trilogy took three days to read, thanks to a bit of downtime while having my car serviced. The character development of the supporting cast, from the megalomaniacal Pilcher willing to condemn humanity to extinction rather than relinquish control of his life’s work to the supremely selfish but fundamentally relatable Hassler, made the unfolding of the story feel natural, like the only way this particular group of people could have responded to the extraordinary circumstances in which they lived.

Even the ending, simultaneously bleak and hopeful, didn’t disappoint. I’ve heard more than a few complaints about the open-ended conclusion, which did feel at first reading like an obvious set up for a fourth title, but the more I think about it the better it fit. Like the characters themselves, the story didn’t resolve neatly into a final solution. Instead it ended with an open frontier, long odds, and the human spirit at its best, striving to survive in a new world.

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