In the End There is Always Hope
The Lightest Object in the Universe
by Kimi Eisele
If the grid went down, how would you find someone on the other side of the country? How would you find hope?―
Kimi Eisele, The Lightest Object in the UNiverse
If the grid went down, how would you find someone on the other side of the country? How would you find hope?
After a global economic collapse and failure of the electrical grid, amid escalating chaos, Carson, a high school teacher of history who sees history bearing out its lessons all around him, heads west on foot toward Beatrix, a woman he met and fell hard for during a chance visit to his school. Working his way along a cross-country railroad line, he encounters lost souls, clever opportunists, and those who believe they’ll be delivered from hardship if they can find their way to the evangelical preacher Jonathan Blue, who is broadcasting on all the airwaves countrywide. Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Beatrix and her neighbors turn to one another for food, water, and solace, and begin to construct the kind of cooperative community that suggests the end could, in fact, be a promising beginning.
But between Beatrix and Carson lie 3,000 miles. With no internet or phone or postal service, can they find their way back to each other, and what will be left of their world when they do? The answers may lie with fifteen-year-old Rosie Santos, who travels reluctantly with her grandmother to Jonathan Blue, finding her voice and making choices that could ultimately decide the fate of the cross-country lovers.
The Lightest Object in the Universe is a story about reliance and adaptation, a testament to the power of community and a chronicle of moving on after catastrophic loss, illustrating that even in the worst of times, our best traits, borne of necessity, can begin to emerge.
“In The Lightest Object in the Universe, author Kimi Eisele explores how humanity would have to evolve, relying on hope and love to ultimately sustain humankind.”
—The Associated Press
“A worthy addition to the realm of speculative fiction . . . More than just standard techno-challenged-humanity-rendered-atavistic fare, this is a love story. More accurately, the quest for love and its potential in a world demanding to be rebuilt.”
“It’s Sleepless In Seattle meets Station Eleven . . . the leisurely chapters are full of beauty, the characters are layered and nuanced, and the plot still moves at a faster clip than Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain, another Odyssean novel about lovers separated by harsh geography.
—The A.V. Club
“A compellingly realistic depiction of the world after the collapse of civilization, although at its heart, it is a love story told in the vein of Cold Mountain . . . The Lightest Object in the Universe is an intriguing and engrossing debut novel that will leave readers thinking about their own ability to survive, their own capacity for love, and their willingness to face catastrophe with hope.”
—New York Journal of Books
Hardcover, 325 pagesPublished July 9th 2019 by Algonquin Books
Life is so much more than the struggle because what is the struggle if you can never stop and enjoy a sunset. I think that the ability to stop and be present is one of the best parts of The Lightest Object in the Universe by Kimi Eisele. It warms and delights in small beautiful moments. Life has crumbled as they know it. It could be many things, was it global warming that stopped the world, or was it pollution? Was it the flu? We never really know as readers. Because honestly, “the why” is not the most important thing. The most important thing is how we go on as people.
Sometimes I am sick of the dark despair that permeates apocalyptical novels. I know it’s the apocalypse. It is supposed to suck. I know this as a reader and a regular person. Having a massive upheaval in one’s life, uncertainty, and the real thought that maybe it will never go back to the way it was is terrifying. And right now, those thoughts are getting closer and closer to being prophetic.
But I need to remember that that is not all there is.
And for everything that The Lightest Object in the Universe is: a love story, a story of friendship, and a tale of survival, Eisele nails that even in the darkest times, there is hope; there is community, there is more than scary things. The Lightest Object in the Universe celebrates and calls attention to small moments that give you the reason that you fight tooth and nail to survive.
“The speed of this collapse astounds me,” she writes to Carson before “the darkness” wipes out the internet. “I guess I, too, believed in some kind of American exceptionalism, though I resented it enough to think I could destroy it. Now, look. Maybe we did.”―
Kimi Eisele, The Lightest Object in the Universe
The story follows two characters: a widower named Carson Waller, a high school history teacher on the East Coast, and Beatrix Banks, an activist on the West Coast. They meet, and there is magic between them a certain something. But before they get to figure out what that magic is fully, the lights turn out. In the last communique between them, Carson tells her, “If for some reason everything implodes and the shit really hits the fan, and we can no longer send words or speak to each other, I’ll come find you.”
Carson sets his focus on Beatrix. It gives him hope in the face of having lost everything. Maybe she is more imagined and magical than who she is in life, but she is a connection to all that was lost and all that could be.
Carson begins his long epic trek through the wastelands of what was the United States. While walking, and as any historian would, he records the moments and experiences he has while he trudges through a broken America. He writes these down in a journal, and that journal becomes almost totemic. Beatrix, however, hunkers down and works with her neighbors in creating a small community. They band together to learn about chickens, bikes, home remedies, and their own experiences.
The book is written as a dual narrative; Carson’s ambulatory experiences juxtaposed against Beatrix’s stationary ones. While they are so different, it is easy to see the compatibility of these two characters. It isn’t gushy over overly saccharin. It is a love story like two crashing waves heading for each other: one from the east and one from the West.
The book’s entire experience is the anticipation of the moment when circumstances allow these two lovers to meet. Does it happen? That is not for me to tell you, but for you to discover yourself because it is a twisted and windy path that Eisele lays before them fraught with death, love, starvation, and the indelible human spirit and when faced with so many unknowns, no one can know what will happen.
Protagonists Vs. Antagonists
Each of the two main character’s deal with antagonists. In Carson’s case, it is the world at large and the pervasive hunger that he faces. He is given moment after moment to stray from his path. So for him, his struggles are “man vs. himself.” This trek is a monumental task he is facing, even in the best of circumstances. In Beatrix’s case, she is faced with a boogie man of sorts. A Preacher on the radio named Jonathan Blue. A voice who tells you that all your troubles will disappear if only you give yourself over to him. It is alluring and seductive. His voice wafts through her small community as the pied piper but heard on the radio. It underminds everything that Beatrix is trying to do with her small community.
Should You Read This?
Is this book for everyone? Probably not. In some ways, it’s descriptions of the beauties and quietudes of life after the apocalypse will seem mundane and, at the worst, naive to some readers. But for some, like myself, in a constant state of anxiety because the world I found this book beautiful. It reminds you to take a look at the beauty on a micro-scale, instead of getting swallowed by how massive a societal collapse is. It isn’t grandiose or expansive, and it reminds me much of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. But The Lightest Object in the Universe is pleasant, romantic, lovely, and I think most importantly right now uplifting. Because dreams are worth chasing, after all, isn’t that the whole point in living? Those dreams exist and should be fought for, even if the dream is another person that shines like a beacon of light through the vastness of the dark two thousand miles away.
I felt good after reading this, and I hope you will too.
About the Author
Kimi Eisele is a writer and multidisciplinary artist. Her writing has appeared in Orion, High Country
News, Terrain.org, and Fourth Genre, and has covered art, the environment, health, culture, youth,
and the U.S.–Mexico borderlands. A dancer/choreographer, Eisele’s performance work explores
human-nature relationships and often involves storytelling and public participation in site-specific
venues. She holds a master’s degree in geography from the University of Arizona, and has taught
creative writing and dance in schools, communities, and institutions for two decades. The recipient
of numerous awards and residencies, she currently lives in Tucson and works for the Southwest
Folklife Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and celebrating traditional
knowledge and cultural expression.