(New York, NY: Bloomsbury, 2018)
Kaethe Schwehn’s The Rending and the Nest is a visceral, transcendent tale about creating life out of no life in a post-apocalyptic world. The characters we meet struggle to create normalcy out of tattered fragments. They confront the desolation of their current world while being constantly bombarded with their lives in the Before; a Before they can only hold onto in scraps of things left behind and in their own disjointed memories. At its core, the novel asks what it means to be human. To love, to hate, to feel. To do what humans do, no matter the place or time. To stand in the messiness of being and find meaning in a desolate landscape and unexplainable circumstances.
Our main character, Mira is our glimpse into the world after “The Rending” in which ninety-five percent of earth’s population inexplicably vanished along with most animals and even some of the buildings. The world is a mess with all the detritus of modern suburban living ends up in sky-high piles of useless junk. There’s no sun, no rain, and a kind of strange stasis. Mira and a group of people from the mall she wakes up in form a community called Zion and eek out a living plundering useful garbage out of the piles and growing root vegetables for sustenance. Mira’s work in Zion creates a survivalist normalcy until her best friend becomes pregnant and gives birth not to a baby, but an inanimate plastic doll. As other women fall pregnant and begin birthing more inanimate objects, the inhabitants of Zion are left to ponder yet another inexplicable phenomena of this new world, while the women grapple with torn emotions over mothering these objects. Their grief and confusion leave the community open to the strange teachings of a man named Michael from another colony, endangering everything the Zionists have worked hard to hold together.
What is so remarkable about The Rending and the Nest is how Schwehn deftly handles the flash-backs to the before times without losing the poignant desolation of the present – a feat that many apocalyptic stories struggle with. Schwehn’s story never feels like a flashback told in segments. The prose lilts beautifully from past to present through memory, objects, and description. She covers heavy topics with a light hand that never feels pushy or preachy, and she handles a fairly large cast without running into issues with flat background characters. Everyone has a story. Everyone has a purpose. Everyone has meaning.
Schwehn’s poetic prose guides us through a story that is both terrible and wonderful, sad and content, desolate and beautiful, a story that explores the depths of human tenderness in the face of tragedy and loss.
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Abagail Belcastro has a Masters in Fiction with Fairleigh Dickinson University. She is a reader for TLR and a teaching assistant with FDU’s Creative Writing department.