Things We Didn’t See Coming

Steven Amsterdam

First Sentence: For the first time, Dad is letting me help pack the car, but only because it’s getting to be kind of an emergency.

I liked this book. Only thing is, I thought I was going to love this book, so the fact that I ended up only liking it was a little disappointing. Maybe my expectations were just too high. I really like how it starts with the unnamed narrator and his parents fleeing to his grandparent’s farm on New Year’s Eve 1999. There is a real sense of foreboding here which is only heightened in the next chapter when we realise the narrator is no longer nine years old, he is fifteen, has a criminal record, and is fleeing the urban desolation with his grandparents in a stolen camper van. This pattern continues throughout the book, with each chapter beginning further in the future in an unknown time and place. Each chapter could be read as a standalone short story, but placed together as they are here, it creates a (somewhat) cohesive and intriguing post-apocalyptic tale. I just felt that after a while, there was too little connecting each narrative strand, and I ended up uninterested in earlier characters/storylines as the newer ones took over. Overall though I found this to be very well written and thoroughly enjoyable. Just not unforgettable, which I concede, is expecting too much to begin with. Oh well.

* * * *

Last Sentence: Slowly, he lowers his fingertips nearer my skin till I can feel their heat on my cheeks and then, without a sound, without the slightest incantation, he closes my eyes.

Last Sentence explained: At the end here, the narrator has become very ill and is visiting his father. The father has not been seen since the opening chapter which ends with the narrator and the father together at the stroke of midnight as the year 2000 begins. Here the father is hugging his nine-year old son and saying ‘I’m sorry’ over and over again, presumably for anything he has done in the past but mostly for the unknown that is to become their future. In a way, the ending ties in with the first chapter nicely but it could have been even more touching if the father wasn’t cast aside for the entire middle section of the book, with barely even a mention. The narrator moves from young boy, to teenage thief, to flood-victim-squatter-protector, to government worker, to middle-aged man in the midst of a three-way relationship with a senator, to a tour guide for the terminally ill with remarkable ease. It sometimes feels like it couldn’t possibly be the same person, as he rarely even mentions previous incidents in his life at all which flies in the face of what he says in the middle of the book: ‘[…] if you lose everything once, running becomes part of you and you’re always looking back.’ Running has definitely become a big part of him, but you never get the sense that he is looking back. It might not seem like it from all my little gripes here, but I did really enjoy this book. I just feel it could have been even better if it had just a little more focus.


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