Kate Vane: For me, post-apocalyptic fiction asks us not just how we would survive, but what would happen to our sense of self when the world that gave us status and identity is swept away. So I’m intrigued to hear from Amy Ginsburg about the transition from suburban comfort to chaos in her dystopian novel The After Days.
I wrote The After Days because I was tired (oh so tired) of reading dystopian tales where the protagonist was an outcast teenager or a male with superhuman powers. Where were all the ordinary suburbanites, doing their best in impossible situations?
I love dystopian fiction of all kinds, but for too long, post-apocalyptic futures were viewed mostly though the eyes of teens and men. Only recently have books like Red Clocks, Vox, Station 11, and The Powerconsidered dystopia through the perspective of women. And when they did focus on women, it was the rare story that included middle-aged protagonists. Wanting the women I know and admire, the women so often left out of science fiction, to be the center of a dystopian story, I wrote The After Days so that we can inhabit the mind of Rachel Caplan, a fifty-four-year old nonprofit executive.
I was also disheartened by the propensity of most dystopian novels to start years or even decades after the precipitating event, whether that’s climate change, asteroids, epidemics, or puritanism. What happens the day of the event? The month after the event? How does a thriving, ordinary world degrade into dystopia? At what point does uncertainty become chaos and hardship become apocalypse? Who thrives and who gives up? What’s the proportion of luck and skill as the fates decide who survives?
As a “pantser,” someone who writes by the seat of her pants, following the characters where they take her, I was shocked by how quickly the suburbs – those traditional havens of safety and security – devolved into a dangerous arena. Much faster than I would have predicted, suburbia falls under the control of the ruthless and the armed.
At first, Rachel Caplan, Zach Wu, and their friends Julie and Christopher Davis believe the power outage is a temporary interruption to their lives, much like a blizzard. It’s a time for neighborhood barbecues, the tantalizing smell of meat sizzling on the grill before it spoils in their non-working freezers. It is a time of bonus vacation days and minor complaints about the inability to watch TV. But as time creeps forward and the electricity doesn’t return, they realize their community are forever changed. Are these four suburbanites able to adapt to survive until the power … hopefully … returns?
Spanning multiple genres – women’s fiction, science fiction, and dystopia – The After Days will spawn fascinating discussions at book clubs … and perhaps encourage readers to pick up an extra can of peaches the next time they go grocery shopping.