Monday, June 30, 2014

The Three

 by Sarah Lotz
Little, Brown    2014
422 pages     Fiction

Four planes crash around the world on the same day, and three children—perhaps four—are the only survivors—one from each crash. It's called "Black Thursday," and it creates a huge sense of foreboding around the world, particularly because a woman who is able to send a message before she died warns her preacher to beware of the boy. The preacher seizes this as an opportunity to make his mark as an evangelist. He claims that the survivors are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. He says in a sermon, "Now, John is told that the first four seals will come in the form of four horsemen. We know, and this is a fact, that the four horsemen are sent to fulfill a divine purpose. And we know from Ezekiel that that purpose is to punish the faithless and the godless. The horsemen will bring plague, famine, war and panic to the earth; they will be the harbingers of the Tribulation." Wow! What a burden to place on the survivors? Or are they merely survivors or something more sinister? The goal of The Three, of course, is to figure out who these children are. By book's end, the entire world is in turmoil; 69 percent of Americans believe that the end of the world is imminent, and politics in the United States takes a nasty turn as theocrats win the election. 

The Three's design is a non-fiction book within a novel. An author, Elspeth Martins, pieces together the Black Thursday story through interviews, emails, articles, online chats, and memoirs and publishes it in a non-fiction book, which is the fabrication upon which The Three is based. It is a clever format that spins science fiction, religion, and media madness together to make a compelling novel. By reading each short entry, the reader weaves together the tale. It is very skillfully written, and rather remarkable to read, once you catch on that you have to cull out the clues from each message, conversation and online chat. When the book reaches its climax, you are overwhelmed with the details that led to this moment.

One interesting side note that ended up being crucial to the plot is that one of the planes crashed in a forest at the foot of Mount Fuji in Japan. The forest is called Aokigahara Forest, and it is where many Japanese go to commit suicide. In actuality, Japan has more than 30,000 suicides each year, one of the highest rates in the world. Here is an article about the forest, with some great photographs. I knew nothing about the Aokigahara Forest, but of course, you can find anything on the Internet. Don't think I want to go there.

Sarah Lotz is a South African screenwriter and author. She describes herself as a writer of "pulp fiction." She says this of the plot line for The Three:  “I do think that an event on this scale would change society to some extent. Perhaps not to the extent that I’ve depicted in my novel, but I do think it’s these disasters that cause us to look at ourselves and reexamine our society. We don’t always learn from them but they do tend to cause a shift either in the way we live in the world, or the way we perceive it.” 

I started reading The Three just before Flight 370 disappeared off the coast of Malaysia. It was all just too real! I had to quit reading, and when I began again, I just couldn't put it down until the very last interview Elspeth makes with a relative of one of the survivors. I kept thinking that the novel would make a great mini-series, and apparently it has been optioned to be just that. 

Believe me! It's a great summer read! One reviewer's conclusion: "If The Three isn’t the year’s most chilling work of fiction, I don’t know what is. Assiduously ambiguous, brilliantly balanced, carefully controlled and in the final summation fantastically crafted, it makes sense that this is the first of Sarah Lotz’s solo novels to be published outside South Africa. The Three is easily the best thing she’s written, and she’s quite right to want to own it." 

An excellent review on science fiction website.
A review in the Washington Post.
An interview with Sarah Lotz in Kirkus Reviews.

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