Tuesday, August 2, 2016

On the Shelf at Paragraphs - "The Last One"

As a bookseller I have the opportunity to read a lot of books by debut authors and it is often interesting to hear a new voice take a different perspective on a familiar genre.  I was totally intrigued with the story Alexandra Oliva tells in her new novel “The Last One” as she combines a critique of reality TV with the best in spooky apocalyptic fiction. She examines what impact popular culture has on the way we think about identity and human relationships. But mostly, “The Last One” is just great story-telling.

“The Last One” by Alexander Oliva
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher:  Ballantine Books 
Release Date: July 12,2016
ISBN: 978-1101965085
Telling herself that she is after one last big adventure before starting a family, Zoo (as she is dubbed by producers) decides to participate in a hard-core wilderness survival show. She wanted an adventure but she never imagined it would go this far.

The story begins with a reality TV show. Twelve contestants are sent into the woods to face challenges that will test the limits of endurance. In the beginning narrative we experience the show’s initial week: we see a series of group and solo challenges, such as tracking animals and filtering water, accomplished in order to earn prizes. We are also introduced to the reality show contestants, who are called by easy-label names like Asian Chick and Air Force. As they begin their final solo mission the tension builds. While they are out there, something terrible happens — but how widespread is the destruction, and has it occurred naturally or is it man-made? Cut off from society, the contestants know nothing of it. As Zoo stumbles across the devastation, she can imagine only that it is part of the game.

Alone and disoriented, Zoo is heavy with doubt about the life and husband she left behind, but she refuses to quit. Staggering countless miles across unfamiliar territory, Zoo must summon all of her survival skills and learn new ones as she goes. But as her emotional and physical reserves dwindle, she grasps that the real world might have been altered in terrifying ways and her ability to parse the charade will either be her triumph or her undoing.

Sophisticated and provocative, “The Last One” is a novel that forces us to confront the role that media plays in our perception of what is real: how readily we cast our judgments, how easily we are manipulated.

““The Last One” seamlessly melds two of our contemporary obsessions — the threat of global catastrophe and the staged drama of reality TV — into a fiercely imagined tale of the human psyche under stress. This is an uncompromising, thought-provoking debut.”– Justin Cronin, author of The Passage Trilogy.

Alexandra Oliva was born and raised in upstate New York. She has a BA in history from Yale University and an MFA in creative writing from The New School. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband. “The Last One” is her first novel.

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