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Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven

Even on its surface, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven is a beautifully constructed spiderweb of a novel. It begins with the death of Arthur Leander, an aging actor, and expands outward. On the same snowy night, a deadly Georgian Flu breaks out in North America and spreads quickly, completely wiping out 99 percent of the population. Moving back and forth in time, the narrative weaves together the lives of Arthur’s ex-wife, his college friend, the paramedic who tries to revive him, and, most centrally, Kristen Raymonde, the eight-year old child actress who witnesses his death.
Fifteen years after the collapse, Kristen is performing Shakespeare plays with the Traveling Symphony, a ragtag group of musicians and actors who wander through the half-formed settlements of the new world. Painted on their caravan is the Star Trek quote, “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they encounter a violent prophet, the symphony must once again fight to maintain their fragile existence.
At once sprawling and intimate, Station Eleven is less interested in the gore of the epidemic than it is in the aftermath, the different ways humans embark on the painstaking process of rebuilding. Both before and after the epidemic, Mandel’s complex characters grapple with the same questions, searching across an impersonal world for connection and meaning and hope.
While traveling with the symphony, Kristen remembers flying on airplane as a child. “She’d pressed her forehead to the window and saw clusters and pinpoints of light in the darkness, scattered constellations liked by roads or alone. The beauty of it, the loneliness. . .” For me, Station Eleven is that pinpoint of light, that faint voice coming through a dark tunnel, a prayer for the modern world.