I really want to like this book. I tried so hard. But I just ended up actively disliking it, which makes me sad.
Wendig bit off something really vast with this novel, and he actually executed it very well. It’s been billed as an epic saga, and that’s a fair description. Wanderers is as large in scope as the novel it is most commonly compared to, Stephen King’s The Stand, and mirrors the novel in other ways, specifically in its inclusion of an apocalyptic epidemic, its varied cast of characters, and its cross country journey on foot. However, Wanderers was far more hopeless, to the point of nihilism. The elements that should have been hopeful ended up being among the darkest and most disturbing. Don’t get me wrong; there were moments of loveliness. But overall it ended up leaving me with a bad taste in my mouth. I also deeply hated the ending, and that further impacted my view of the book.
“I love you in the future tense: I will love you, tomorrow and the day after and the day after that until there are no more days left for us.”
I’m aggressively optimistic, so I have a very hard time dealing with bleakness, especially when hope is portrayed almost as a weakness. The Stand sounds like a book that would bother me, but there was a good bit of hope to be found there, and you could tell it was written from a deistic worldview. Wanderers was its opposite in that respect. Believers in God were often portrayed as naive, and faith was something to be overcome in most cases. I know realistically that many people, if faced with the types of situations in which these characters found themselves, would question God and possibly lose their faith. But there was just something about how that loss was handled in this novel that seemed as though such crises and the denial of God were something to be praised instead of pitied. It just really bothered me.
“That is how science and medicine are practiced best, though—we are best when we admit our ignorance up front, and then attempt to fill the darkness of not-knowing with the light of information and knowledge.”
Wanderers was also far more political that I was prepared for, and the politics present in the novel were thinly veiled versions of America’s current political climate. When asked about my political views, I bill myself as moderately conservative, though I try to just steer clear of politics as much as possible. Mostly, I just see myself as an egalitarian, and believe all people should be treated with dignity. That’s how Jesus lived His life, and it’s how I try my best to live mine. In this novel, almost everyone with a conservative view point is not only portrayed as wrong and small-minded, but as downright evil. It’s a portrayal that I can understand, as there are indeed many people like this in the world and our nation in particular, but I strongly disagreed with the implications that all political conservatives are evil, and that the vast majority of religious individuals only have faith because said faith has never been tested, and that it will break at the first sign of hardship.
“You didn’t change anyone’s mind about politics by hammering away at them—all that did was drive the nail deeper into the wall of their own certainty.”
The plot of the book was interesting, and I found it compelling enough to continue reading even though I disliked the implied worldview. Wendig did a great job of slowly building on the plot, and including multiple twists along the way. I’m a fan of slow burns, and Wanderers definitely qualifies. While I didn’t love the book, it never felt like it dragged, which is quite an accomplishment for an 800 page book. The portrayal of a world under siege by a disease, and the resulting breakdown in societal infrastruction, was very believable. I also thought that Wendig did a great job compiling his cast, and having such varied interests and viewpoints and personality types.
“Hell, nobody’s okay. Maybe we never were, and we damn sure aren’t now. But we’re here. Until we’re not. And that’s all I find it fair to ask for.”
While I really respect what Wendig crafted in and with Wanderers, it just didn’t work for me. Our worldviews are too different. Nihilism is anathema to me, and I would never had read this book had I known it would leave me feeling so hopeless. However, I can definitely see why this book would appeal to so many, and I foresee it being very popular. I would recommend this book to fans of apocalyptic fiction like The Stand and Station Eleven (though I far prefer those two to this book), but know yourself; if you have a difficult time with nihilism, you might need to skip this one.
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