Friday, March 7, 2014
Shortly after an American evangelist radio broadcaster predicts that Jesus Christ will return to earth in May 2011, he begins to earn millions of dollars in donations and a global audience. Never mind that he had previously and erroneously said the same thing two decades earlier. There are thousands of people who still want to believe him.
In preparation, many of them abandon their jobs, leave their homes, and give up everything they own to warn the world. Metcalf is one of those believers. Armed with thousands of pamphlets called "tracts," he takes his family on a pilgrimage from Alabama to California in advance of the Rapture.
The Last Days of California plays out as an earthly purgatory.
The Last Days of California, as told by 15-year-old Jess, isn't a typical coming of age story. She experiences it with her family — dad, mom, and her 17-year-old sister, Elise — while living on the road in a reality one off from the rest of the world outside. For them, the world is going to end.
Knowing it to be true places a decidedly different slant on everything, especially for Jess. She finds herself feeling aimless and lost by the experience, uncertain of whether she should embrace the certainty of her father that it will happen or the certainty of her sister that it will not.
While her sister does do her father's bidding and passes out tracts at various stops along the way, Elise doesn't believe that the world will end. She also smokes, drinks, and maintains her interest in boys despite being secretly pregnant. And yet, at the same time, she finds some solace in knowing her secret will be safe if there is a Rapture.
Their mother, on the other hand, is considerably more subtle, never truly expressing her faith with the same conviction of her husband and yet clearly steadfast in her devotion to him. She will follow him to the end of the world, even if the end of the world happens to be the sunny West Coast.
Knowing that the prediction will likely be a bust doesn't dull the story. There is a tragic totality in watching the family make some decisions based on the prediction, with much of the tension centered on how they might act if it doesn't happen or, worse, if it happens and they are left behind.
Still, while their reasons for this pilgrimage might feel alien, the road trip itself does not. The girls still fight over space in the back, their mother still lobbies for peace and quiet, and their father still maintains a delicate balance between fast food and insulin. In many ways, it is in this quietly desperate portrayal of a normal family on an abnormal mission that makes the story both darkly beautiful and tragically humorous.
A few graphs about author Mary Miller.
Prior to writing The Last Days of California, she garnered a Michener Fellowship at the University of Texas and the John and Reneé Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi. The story itself was inspired by the predictions of Harold Camping, who believed the world was going to end in 2011.
While watching people abandon their families in preparation for the Rapture fascinated her as bizarre, she also wondered if they were really so different than her family. While she grew up in Mississippi with a sister and two brothers, she wanted to focus on the complicated female relationship between two sisters in the story.
The Last Days of California Drives Off 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.
Mary Miller has an exceptional gift in her ability to capture a scene and make it stick, largely because of her observant nature to pick out the right details and a complete mastery over her protagonist's internal voice. This is a story about angst, rivalry, and the self-doubt of teenage life, especially as parents begin to prove themselves human and fallible.
You can find The Last Days of California: A Novel by Mary Miller on Amazon. The Last Days of California is also available at Barnes & Noble or can be downloaded for iBooks. The audiobook is narrated by Andi Arndt, whom truly embodies the spirit of Jess. The book is short and can be finished in an afternoon.