A Quiet Apocalypse by Dave Jeffery
Demain, pb, £6.51
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
A mutated strain of meningitis has swept through the world, killing millions and leaving its survivors deaf. Any who escape contracting the disease are now a valuable commodity, slaves for those who can no longer hear and are paranoid of losing anything else.
Chris lost everything to the disease, family, friends, security, his mobility, but not his hearing. He serves a cruel master, Crowley, who resents Chris for still being able to hear as much as he hates his dependence on another man. Chris is resigned to his life until a chance discovery of a radio brings him hope of a new life in the Sanctuary, a refuge for everyone in these tumultuous times. But while staying with Crowley is dangerous, leaving him could be even more dangerous with starving feral dogs and roaming bands of Samaritans searching for anyone who can still hear, even one as broken as Chris.
I think we’ve reached a stage where we will review any stories about the aftermath of a pandemic with a critical eye. After all, we’re living a pandemic now. And while on the surface, this is a post-apocalyptic story, it is also a story about isolation when you are in a minority. By reversing the roles of the hearing and the hearing impaired, Jeffery’s builds sympathy for those without hearing. As Chris struggles in a world where only he can hear the screams of anguish, how much worse is it for those who cannot hear at all.
The story centres on Chris’s experiences both before and during the pandemic. We understand the personality shaping moments that mean Chris is likely to hide in bushes while his companion is dragged away rather than helping. Each decision along his journey from Crowley to the Sanctuary is punctuated by his desire to be safe as well as a need to be a better man than he was.
Jeffery’s use of first person present tense brings us close the action and the character building means the reader can feel the threat of death if Crowley discovers Chris has a radio or Chris’s guilt when a person who helps him is found lynched. Each twist and turn, each action or inaction, is realistic and within character, brings Chris to a logical ending.
As stories go, this is a short one, which means every word counts. The writing is sharp without any fat. Each anecdote or conversation has a point. There is also no overstating, human nature has the capacity of great generosity as well as great selfishness under pressure without exaggerating and Jeffery’s achieves this. A Quiet Apocalypse is an intelligent story about the impact of being the odd one out in society. Highly recommended.