One Sentence Summary: “What if the apocalypse comes gently, this memorable book asks, not with a bang or blaze but with the silence of refrigerators no longer buzzing and the ‘fuzzy dandelions of candlelight floating past the curtains’?” — Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow, The New York Times Book Review.
One Sentence Review: Wildgen’s book is set in a slightly unfamiliar Madison which was one if the most interesting aspects for me, but leaves me unsure about what others might think of the book.
Long Review: There’s something deliciously unsettling about reading a book set in the place where you live, especially a book that takes the reality of the world and shifts it slightly to one side, creating a setting that’s almost sinister in its uncomfortable familiarity.
That was the strange feeling I had while reading Michelle Wildgen’s 2010 novel But Not for Long, which is set in a slightly-off Madison that was both familiar and unusual. The book is set in Madison’s co-op culture, with three roommates — Greta, Hal, and Karin:
Greta has left her old life behind and moved into a sustainable foods co-op in Madison, Wisconsin. Just as she begins to settle in with her two housemates, the husband she left behind appears on their porch, drunk. His arrival begins a dark three-day period during which all three residents of the house will have to reckon with a disquietude lurking under the surface of their little society. A series of summer blackouts, gas shortages, and an ominous disappearance will force them all out into a larger world that seems everywhere on the verge of crisis.
One of the things I loved most about this book was the setting of an off-kilter Madison. Wildgen did an amazing job of getting many of the details about Madison right — the hippie culture, the political activism and idealism, the lakes and streams and sense of place. And because she did such a great job characterizing Madison, the ways in which she disrupts the community feel even more eerie.
Despite the quietly apocalyptic setting, this book is very much about the characters. It’s a look at how people respond to the kinds of situations that shake up the everyday but that don’t seem to have an explanation. I’m not sure that I related to Hal, Greta, or Karin, but that didn’t really matter to me. They felt like real people, people who try hard and make mistakes and just want to make their lives work.
Those two factors came together to make a book that I really enjoyed. I’m still not sure about what Wildgren was necessarily trying to do, the message of the book, but I’m still thinking about it, and that’s a quality I appreciate in fiction.
If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!