If a superplague were released that would wipe out humanity, how would you spend your last days? Last Last Chance (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25), the debut novel from Fiona Maazel, takes us through a world of wealthy druggies, dysfunctional families, and estranged lovers as they struggle with a world on the brink of catastrophe. With rollicking prose both searing and poignant, Maazel’s dystopian vision enchants and agitates, chaperoned by a 30-year-old addict ready to be with her one true love.
When Lucy Clark gets word that her biologist father’s virulent strain of virus has been stolen, she has just left after a day of work (at a kosher slaughterhouse, where she plucks chickens) to head to her estranged best friend’s wedding. Accompanied by a middle-aged paramour, she finds herself back in her wealthy, drugaddled family’s New York home, where she struggles to get clean and reconnect with her sister and long-lost boyfriend. What follows is a sometimes meandering, always entertaining journey as Lucy and her mother do their time at an isolated desert detox facility, commandeering the enclave’s siege when the plague strikes. The novel’s final section shows an increasingly apocalyptic city where, holed up in the family apartment, Lucy manages to reconcile with her loved ones and learn the secret of her beloved grandmother’s one passionate romance.
While this book’s theme of love in the face of adversity may seem maudlin or trite, Last Last Chance is anything but. Lucy’s narrative voice is cynical, cranky, and selfcritical but also easygoing — she is difficult to like, but easy to empathize with. As she describes herself after meeting her ex-lover: “I checked myself the way you might postcar crash: are you hurt, where and how bad? But it was nothing major, just the nicks and dents your body sustains daily.” Lucy can epitomize this generation’s feminist heroine: self-possessed and self-destructive, as free to ruin or reclaim her life as earlier generations of aimless male heroes have done. The darkness that surrounds her can sometimes be overwhelming, even when written with a comic touch, and I found myself occasionally put off by the enormity of her depression and drug use. Despite this caveat, I couldn’t get enough of Maazel’s hilarious plotting: the scenes of siege in the remote detox center had me in stitches, with its motley crew of restless drug addicts warring with the refugee natives escaping the plague.
Last Last Chance is an heir to Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, with its narrative digressions and apocalyptic preoccupations. At the heart of both novels is the question of reincarnation: are souls meant for each other? Can one find one’s true soulmate? Maazel taps the fount of ultimate longing and desire when she chronicles Lucy’s heartbreak and parallels it with the story of her grandmother Agneth’s lost love. The world may be ending, the narrator may be cynical, but the memories of love that Lucy carries will sustain her into the uncertain future. Should the apocalypse come someday, we can only hope to be as lucky as Maazel’s Lucy.
Sara N.S. Meirowitz studies and teaches Jewish texts and works as a freelance editor and writer in Jerusalem.