Post-apocalyptic YA: The Compound

The Compound, by S.A. Bodeen

How the world ends: An old-fashioned nuclear attack, to start with. Except … I find I can’t discuss this book any further than that without spoilers.

*** Spoilers below: ***

Except there wasn’t really a nuclear attack, just a dangerously controlling, very rich father who built a shelter in case of nuclear attack, then decided to tell his family there’d been one so that they could go down below and spend some quality time together — and also so that he could give his children some adversity to test them and help them develop fortitude as thewy grow up. It’s a sort of … post-apocalyptic fakeout book.

I’ve been thinking about this, because it almost worked for me. As far as the protagonist knows, the world has ended, so he goes through all the emotions that go with thinking it has–and as obsessively controlling father figure characters go, the father in this book is genuinely creepy for most of the book (toward the end he becomes less three-dimensional), and I almost believe in him.

*** Even deeper spoilers below: ***

I think the “almost” comes with the fact that part of testing his children involved telling the builders of his underground shelter to make sure some things would go wrong, then convincing his wife to have extra children to be used as, well, food supplements if their supplies don’t last the 15 years they’re supposed to stay underground. Later the father claimed he wouldn’t really have eaten the little kids, that it was just a test — but it wasn’t a test I believed in. Maybe I’d had too much of cannibalism when I read The Road, but I wasn’t buying that that the father, controlling and obsessive as he was, would go to the extreme of having extra children, raising them in a separate supplements-only room, and telling his other children they should be prepared to eat them one day.

There were also some odd gender politics that kept rendering the male protagonist the only character capable of really doing anything that needed to be done, for reasons that never entirely made sense to me.

Still, an interesting thought experiment. Not wholly successful for me, but I could see it working for another reader. And if not for the faux cannibalism, it might have worked for me too.

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