Published by Ballantine Books on July 12th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Science Fiction, Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic, Thrillers, Suspense
eARC provided by Ballantine Books
For readers of Station Eleven and The Passage comes a dazzling and unsettling novel of psychological suspense. In Alexandra Oliva's thrilling fiction debut, survival is the name of the game, as the line blurs between reality TV and reality itself--and one woman's mind and body are pushed to the limit.
She wanted an adventure. She never imagined it would go this far.
It begins with a reality TV show.
Twelve contestants are sent into the woods to face challenges that will test the limits of endurance. While they are out there, something terrible happens--but how widespread is the destruction, and has it occurred naturally or is it man-made? Cut off from society, the contestants know nothing of it. When one of them--a young woman the show's producers call Zoo--stumbles across the devastation, she can imagine only that it is part of the game.
Alone and disoriented, Zoo is heavy with doubt regarding the life--and husband--she left behind, but she refuses to quit. Staggering countless miles across unfamiliar territory, Zoo must summon all of her survival skills--and learn new ones as she goes.
But as her emotional and physical reserves dwindle, she grasps that the real world might have been altered in terrifying ways--and her ability to parse the charade will either be her triumph or her undoing.
Sophisticated and provocative, The Last One is a novel that forces us to confront the role that media plays in our perception of what is real: how readily we cast our judgments, how easily we are manipulated.
Advance praise for The Last One
"The Last One seamlessly melds two of our contemporary obsessions--the threat of global catastrophe and the staged drama of reality TV--into a fiercely imagined tale of the human psyche under stress. This is an uncompromising, thought-provoking debut."--Justin Cronin
"Haunting, moving, and remarkable . . . Alexandra Oliva's debut novel is clever in its concept and gripping in its delivery. This propulsive book is for everyone who ever thought reality television signaled the end of the world."--Karen Joy Fowler
The premise for this story is so interesting to me. I love reality shows about surviving the wild. I think the people who compete in those shows are superstars. Seriously the amount of skill and knowledge needed to survive without modern conveniences is mind blowing. The protagonist in this story signs up for a “ground breaking” survival competition. The contestants are challenged over and over again, and their last assignment is a solo mission. There are cameras in drones and hidden throughout the wilderness. The scope of this show is going to be epic. At the same time, a pandemic sweeps through the world and kills off 99% of the population. She doesn’t realize the game is over. She can’t face it until she meets a young boy who needs her company to survive.
This story is told in alternate timelines. We see the contestant labeled “Zoo” on her solo mission (she gets that name because she works with wildlife), then the story flips back to the beginning of the competition. All of the contestants are labeled by their skills. The contestants are; Tracker, Zoo, Waitress, Air Force, Black Doctor, Engineer, Rancher, Cheerleader Boy, Biology, Construction Girl, Exorcist, and Banker. At first it was a little annoying to see the labels, but as the story is told I could see that this helped prevent confusion. We get to know all the players in the game as they react to challenges and try to work together. The dynamics of the group are well thought out and very entertaining. They are teamed up and we see personalities get in the way of completing missions.
Zoo inserts herself into this game to get away from the loss she just suffered/is suffering. It is only hinted at. I finished this book and I still don’t know if it was an actual loss or a future absence. Zoo is all alone at first on her solo mission. She is unreachable, off course, wondering aimlessly. She walks through towns that are abandoned. She sees dead people she thinks are props to make it seem real. She thinks they are only messing with her. Reality is all around her, but she is convinced she is still in the game. She thinks the kid who finds her is an actor. It is easy to see how someone might make this mistake. She refuses to quit no matter how terrifying it gets. After all, it is only a game.
“I’ll let them record me, I’ll let them follow and document. That’s what I signed on for, after all. What I won’t do is let them break me. I won’t let them win.”
Zoo thinks back on the beginning of the challenge and calls people by their actual names and not their labels. This is a minor thing for the reader, because as time goes on it is easy to figure out who is who. All of the contestants seemed very genuine. Zoo is maybe the most sane one. She reflects on them as anyone would. I loved that the game is played out without a protagonist to tell the story. It was easier to “see” the story unfolding. We get some social media reaction to the first few episodes of this show. A forum discussing this show displays people’s favorites to win.
This story horrified me. What would it feel like to discover everyone you know is dead? Zoo is a terrible guide for us, because she doesn’t want to see what is really happening. At some point she finds herself in a camping supply store and I actually wanted her to stay there. I got so wrapped into this story for survival that I pretty much read this in one day. Zoo’s ignorance was a bit frustrating, but it was also a little bit genius. She is not a dumb character, so it is really hard to tell when she knew she was lying to herself. Zoo thinks her solo mission is to go home. She imagines the scene for us and it is heartbreaking.
The best part of this story was actually the survival aspect. Zoo’s reaction to the young kid and her rules for survival don’t mesh well. It was easy to imagine the kid’s frustration at her. He is only a kid, after all, and she must seem crazy to him, but she is the only person he has seen in so long. Zoo isn’t the sort of character that will be lulled into a sense of obligation. I wanted to cry for him, especially since Zoo doesn’t seem to have a comforting bone in her body.
There are some graphic images well described in this story. This is not the kind of book I could read and then forget about. I am going to be thinking about this book for a while. I actually dreamed about it last night. It is really haunting. This is the best apocalyptic story I have read, maybe ever. I felt so much reading this. I starved and felt grimy and teared up at Zoo’s reality. The ending was picture perfect in my opinion. If you want to read a great apocalyptic story you should really read this book.