Author: Kimi Eisele
Illustrator: Pete Garceau, Steve Godwin
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Published: June 2020
Genres: Fiction, Sci-Fi
“Everything returns to its origin… Ready for repurposing.” – Kimi Eisele, The Lightest Object in the Universe
Nothing is everything and everything is nothing in the grassroots, post-apocalyptic world of The Lightest Object in the Universe by Kimi Eisele. Similar to Jose Saramago’s Blindness, with a world that looks but does not see disparity past one’s nose, and unlike Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, with its bleak sparsity and savagery, here Eisele presents human nature at a crossroads with nature. The global economy and digital grid society depends on have failed; no more internet, American government, military, big pharma, corporations, transportation systems. Bartering is the new currency and modern medicine, an outbreak of the common flu (pre-COVID-19) ravages populations, wagons replace cars, and the only means for communication is a pack of cyclists, a rumored cross-country mailing service. Out of this blackout comes a return to basics with activists ready for revolution, teachers holding on to the past and reaching out to the future, friends and strangers made familiar and new, and star-crossed lovers defying the hard times from separate coasts.
The Lightest Object in the Universe has vulnerable and likeable characters, more tolerable than despicable too. Even the more suspicious faces, like a self-proclaimed preacher toting salvation, are not without reasonable persuasion. South American civil activist, Beatrix Banks, and Carson Waller, a Pennsylvanian high school history teacher, create a liminal backdrop for a seemingly dystopian end. It is only after the couple lose contact that their true nature withstands their fears and complacency. Headstrong as she is, Beatrix learns she cannot fight the good fight alone, so she joins and fosters a community in her neighborhood. Carson Waller chooses to leave his city and travel west to document the global collapse and to be with Beatrix. While there is no single antagonist in Eisele’s debut novel (the occasional uncivilized gang or slightly unhinged lost soul), minor and tame as they are, she does offer one sure villain at the end of the sidewalk: unpredictable, sometimes unpreventable, loss.
The loss of normalcy and the self that society could never define before and possibly never had a grasp of. The loss of things and people taken for granted and overlooked. Our scatterbrained and slapdash answers to loss, in the form of grief, self-importance, commercialized distractions, flag-waving, or simply suggesting the “right” suggestion or solution, makes another inadvertent and possibly irreversible consequence, an unnecessary heaviness. In these moments, the destruction becomes a form of creation, a new page to write and rewrite upon. Small gestures of kindness, love, and good deeds are challenged and welcomed in these times of uncertainty, which ultimately gives more connections than disconnections, an unexpected lightness. Eisele has wonderful pacing, adding time and awareness where it has been lost, savoring the ordinary and laying it bare. The journey breathes through its remarkable and endearing encounters, short-lived but never gratuitous, and chokes at its destinations. More than a timely precautionary and predictive tale, The Lightest Object in the Universe demystifies the rarely seen, too often mythologized and heavily advertised, subtlety in humanity with waves of ease and vigor.