Brackets Press, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-9848930-0-3
In 2020, the world as we know it ended. Terrible volcanic eruptions blotted out the sun, causing death everywhere, and then we have earthquakes and floods and what not. By 2023, the survivors scavenge to survive and band together against other packs. Life goes on, but priorities have changed. Honey, which would never spoil, for example, is now hot commodity, as are twine and duct tapes for their many uses.
Sophie Cohen was attending a family gathering when disaster struck. Little did she expect that they would all be stuck permanently in Portland. Today, she lives with a group of ragtag and often eccentric people in a condo complex. Her husband Bertrand continues being a doctor at the nearby hospital, and he’s probably the sanest one of the lot. Sophie produces antibiotics and such using her autistic nerdy brother Mitchell’s recipes from their makeshift laboratory, which she then hawks at the neighborhood marketplace. She also has to deal with Sasha, her 13-year old daughter who is showing signs of the usual teenage angst, and her mother Lulu lives in the past while managing to train the stray dogs they find into mean and efficient guard dogs.
The fun starts in Etiquette for an Apocalypse when Bertrand believes that a serial killer is on the loose, cutting out the hearts of his female victims, and Sophie is roped in as part of the investigation. And who knows, maybe working together will rekindle the passion between them that has been a flat line all this while, thanks to all the stress brought upon by the apocalypse.
This story is narrated from Sophie’s first person point of view, and therefore, the make-or-break point for readers would be Sophie’s overwhelmingly cynical personality. I personally find the book’s biggest champion Marc Acito’s praise for Anne Mendel as “Janet Evanovich’s long-lost slightly evil twin” a marketing hyperbole, because I don’t find this book laugh-out-loud funny. It’s hard for me to laugh because Sophie is too negative and cynical.
Sophie’s personality actually bogs down the story. If she has her way, this story won’t even happen. She is not keen at all to assist her husband Bertrand, for example, and she actually ruins his efforts to get information out of people by actively distracting and even annoying the person Bertrand is trying to interrogate, at the same time making the interrogation all about her personal melodrama. When Bertrand decides to ask Sophie’s mother for help, Sophie spends the next few paragraphs telling me that her mother is crazy, et cetera. When something does happen to keep the story going, it’s not because Sophie did a big part to push the story in that direction. Sophie can’t even be happy that her autistic brother may have found a girlfriend, because this only reminds her of the sorry state of her relationship with Bertrand! Everything is about Sophie, and don’t anyone forget that!
If we want to compare this book to Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books, then I can say that, despite Stephanie’s inability to learn from her mistakes, at least she actively tries to make things happen and she doesn’t act like she’s being forced to lobotomize herself in the process. At least Stephanie genuinely likes her family. Sophie seems unable to look beyond her own self-absorbed cynicism to appreciate much of anything here.
A book with a first-person narration is as good as the personality of the narrator, and ultimately, Etiquette for an Apocalypse suffers from a protagonist that shows no enthusiasm for the story. She just wants her status quo and she resents every other thing that crosses her path. As a result, I have a hard time caring for anything in this story as well. This is a shame, because the setting is interesting and the secondary characters, while mostly one-note due to Sophie’s myopic point of view, are colorful and entertaining. If only Sophie had been anyone else, really.