Rebecca Silver Slayter’s THE SECOND HISTORY tells the story of a young couple struggling to survive in the Appalachians after the world has irrevocably suffered due to climate change. I found it quite interesting and powerful, though the last act slows the pace considerably with secondhand conflict.
It’s sometime in the future, and humanity is much smaller than it was after decades of drought and tsunamis and pollution producing a widespread genetic defect. Now most of America lives in cities, while the rest stubbornly try to survive in the rural areas, which have grown increasingly wild. Living on their own, Eban and Judy, a young couple, eke out a living, though Judy is restless: Raised on stories about the cities and living among the ruins of the old world, she wants to discover that world for herself. Content with his life but unwilling to lose the partner he adores, Eban joins her in a journey of discovery. Along the way, they face increasing challenges that tests their humanity and their relationship.
It’s more of a literary read, with intense emotional detail, as this isn’t so much a story about environmental catastrophe as what that catastrophe does to human relationships, and an emotional journey between seeking out the old world and making a new one. In some ways, I was reminded of STATION ELEVEN, which meandered sometimes seemingly without goal between past and a post-apocalyptic pandemic future, though the meandering didn’t bother me much because of the beauty of the writing and the sense of nostalgia and melancholia it produced. While THE SECOND HISTORY has a tighter narrative focus, its last act felt diluted to me and not the best kind of meandering, as the protagonists are stripped of most of what little agency they had left, we’re told a lengthy historical conflict, and while some answers are revealed, they aren’t quite powerful enough to bring it all home, at least for me.
So overall, I liked Slayter’s novel. While it didn’t come together in a very satisfactory way for me as a reader, I have a feeling my appreciation for it may grow as I digest it.