Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller
Publisher: Tin House Books. March 17, 2015
Genre: Literary Fiction
First Lines: This morning I found a black-and-white photograph of my father at the back of the bureau drawer. He didn't look like a liar.
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This debut novel was brilliant. I was nervous about reading a second book about an end-of-times survivalist after just reading Soil, which disappointed me. But I'm so glad I did, because this is one of my new favorite books.
Peggy Hillcoat, an 8-year-old girl, is taken away from her home by her father one day. He tells her that the world has ended and that the rest of her family is dead. They are the only two people in the world left. They live together off of very little in a completely rundown cabin in the woods. When she finally comes back to her mother nine years later, they both discover the truth about what happened out there in the wilderness and back home before they left.
The characters and the world that they build for themselves is so vivid. A story about two people alone in the woulds could easily become boring and get bogged down by details about surviving with very little (though I do love those kinds of details). Their situation shone, because we learned so much about them, their relationships with each other, and their previous relationships with people like Peggy's mother as time goes on. Both Peggy and her father are still wrapped up in the past and their own dreams, that they get very involved in certain projects like building Peggy a noiseless piano. It takes them a while to really learn how to take care of themselves and each other. But something is very clearly changing in her father. And once Peggy discovers a pair of boots in the woods, everything starts to unravel and fall apart.
I loved that the book jumped back and forth between Peggy's time as an adult back home with her mother and when she is a child with her father. The tension that's created is superb and everything is revealed with expert timing. I was too absorbed in the story to even think once about what Fuller was slowly doing.
This is a very quick, dark, and heart-wrenching read. Fuller's prose is absolutely exquisite. At so many chapter endings I felt completely blown away and ready to race into the next chapter. Her writing and pacing sucked me in entirely. I couldn't stop reading. And it's not a thriller or a mystery, really. It is well-written, unnerving literary fiction that feels absolutely human and real. And, wow, what an ending.
"I had no idea this wind-worn woman, creased and bag-eyed, standing outside her barn with her cow on a rope, would be the last person I would meet from the real world for another nine years. Perhaps if I had known, I would have clung to the folds of her skirt, hooked my fingers over the waistband of her apron, and tucked my knees around one of her stout legs. Stuck fast, like a limpet or a Siamese twin, I would have been carried with her when she rose in the morning to milk the cow, or into her kitchen to stir the porridge. If I had known, I might never have let her go."
"But here my memory slows, like watching an old cine film, jerky, with all the colours too bright."
"Dates only make us aware of how numbered our days are, how much closer to death we are for each one we cross off."
Outlandishness Rating: 6/10
The plot definitely gave it some points in outlandishness. As does where it all ends up. But, ultimately, this is a very human story.