Review: The Rending and the Nest by Kaethe Schwehn

34921578Verdict: Fascinating premise, weak characters.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Published by Bloomsbury UK & NZ, February 20th, 2018

Genre: Dystopia/ Post-Apocalyptic

Find it on goodreads.

A chilling yet redemptive post-apocalyptic debut that examines community, motherhood, faith, and the importance of telling one’s own story.

When ninety-five percent of the world’s population disappears for no apparent reason, Mira does what she can to create some semblance of a life: She cobbles together a haphazard community named Zion, scavenges the Piles for supplies they might need, and avoids loving anyone she can’t afford to lose. Four years after the Rending, Mira has everything under control. Almost.

Then Mira’s best friend, Lana, announces her pregnancy, the first in this strange world and a new source of hope for Mira. But Lana gives birth to an inanimate object—and soon other women of Zion do, too—and the thin veil of normalcy Mira has thrown over her new world begins to fray. As the community wrestles with the presence of these Babies, a confident outsider named Michael appears, proselytizing about the world outside Zion. He lures Lana away and when she doesn’t return, Mira has to decide how much she’s willing to let go in order to save her friend, her community, and her own fraught pregnancy.

Like California by Edan Lepucki and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, The Rending and the Nest uses a fantastical, post-apocalyptic landscape to ask decidedly human questions: How well do we know the people we love? What sustains us in the midst of suffering? How do we forgive the brokenness we find within others—and within ourselves?

I love vague, quiet, introspective dystopian stories; the premise of this intrigued me to no end and I was hoping for something incredible. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely enjoyed this; just not as much as I thought I would.

I loved the vagueness of the world building. All the reader knows is that six years prior to the events of this book, most people and most things vanished without a trace. What is left of the things is mostly in random piles, while those who are left of the people have to try to make sense of the changed world. These exploration of what makes us human is exacerbated when women start to fall pregnant and then giving birth to objects rather than babies. I adore the setting and I love that Schwehn left the how unexplained. I am not interested in the mechanics of apocalypse but rather in the human condition as influenced by it. But, and this is my main problem with this book, the characters were not all that well explored.

The story is told in first person perspective by Mira who was 18 when the Rending (this is what her group of people started calling the apocalyptic event) happened and she lost her whole family. She is supposedly plagued by the guilt of losing her brother but this never really felt the case as she kept forgetting him the moment something happened. Her relationship to Lana and Rodney is at the core of this book, especially her friendship with the former. But again we are told of her friendship rather than it being shown. This lack of an emotional core made it difficult for me to connect with her. Parts of this is very much on purpose I am sure: Mira is blunted by the Rending, this new world does not offer anything in way of comfort and as such this could have worked brilliantly if it had been explored more. As it is, I cannot help but wonder if I would have liked the book better had the protagonist been older. Now her narration felt superficial and left me feeling at a distance.

The timeless manner in which the story is told (I was unsure for a while when the Rending had occured and had just settled on the nineties when Mira starts talking about smart phones) worked both for and against my enjoyment of the story. I liked how it underscored the parable like story and how it made the story both personal and universal. But at the same time it further led to the protagonist being ill-defined. Her pop culture references were dated without there being an in-story reason for that.

So overall, I loved the worldbuilding and the premise and the language of parable, while the characters and their relationships did not quite work for me.

I received an arc of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing (UK/NZ) in exchange for an honest review.