Peter Rock The Shelter Cycle

ISBN 13: 9780547859088

The Shelter Cycle

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9780547859088: The Shelter Cycle
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An American original, Peter Rock brings our strangest beliefs to vivid and sympathetic life in this haunting novel inspired by true events.

The Shelter Cycle tells the story of two children, Francine and Colville, who grew up in the Church Universal and Triumphant, a religion that predicted the world could end in the late 1980s. While their parents built underground shelters to withstand the impending Soviet missile strike, Francine and Colville played in the Montana wilderness, where invisible spirits watched over them. When the prophesized apocalypse did not occur, the sect’s members resurfaced and the children were forced to grow up in a world they believed might no longer exist.

Twenty years later, Francine and Colville are reunited while searching for an abducted girl. Haunted by memories and inculcated beliefs, they must confront the Church’s teachings. If all the things they were raised to believe were misguided, why then do they suddenly feel so true?

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Review:

Author One-on-One: Adam Johnson and Peter Rock

Adam Johnson is the author of the novel The Orphan Master's Son, which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in fiction. An Associate Professor at Stanford University, he has also won a Whiting Award, a grant from the NEA, and other honors. He's also the author of the novel Parasites Like Us and the short story collection Emporium. His work has appeared in magazines such as Esquire, Harper's, Tin House and The Paris Review, and has been included in The Best American Short Stories and other anthologies. He lives in San Francisco, California, with his family.

Adam Johnson: Pete, your new novel is beautiful and haunting. It seems like you create a new world for each of your books. What drew you to this realm, and how did you conjure it? 

Peter Rock: On a basic level I was drawn to this world because it was cool--people dressed in violet, preparing underground shelters in Montana with the prospect of living there for up to seven years, weathering the apocalypse? That intrigued me. And my curiosity was exacerbated because I was working as a ranch hand on a ranch very nearby during the time they call "the shelter cycle"--1986-1990. So it was a combination of curiosity and sentimentality that drew me back to that time. I wanted to know how why they did those things, and I also wonder how it would be to prepare for the end of the world, to go underground, and then to surface and live in a world that you believed might no longer exist. How did I conjure the world of my book? I just tried to get as deeply into the beliefs and landscape of the church, into the people, and then to write my way out.

AJ: Which makes sense, because the times we hung out during the years you were working on this book, you often seemed kind of unhinged. What were some of the challenges of trying to find your way back?

PR: I don't know that I've come all the way back, or I ever will! I mean, part of the challenge was the sheer amount of cosmology and information that I wanted to share, to convey that dramatically--the book grew to over a 1,000 pages, and now it's just over 200. Also, the process of learning about the church and talking to people exposed my own lack of spiritual beliefs, so that made the writing a different kind of journey. Finally, it was the actual people, since their real stories and my relationships with them were so crucial to the novel, but also complicated the act of writing fiction.

AJ: How did you meet these people? What were the interviews like?

PR: Well, I was fortunate to find that a young woman I knew a little, who had been a student at Reed College, where I teach, had been a child in this church, and her father had built a shelter for about ten families, seventy people. She'd moved back to Bozeman, and I think was ready to come to terms with these parts of her past (her family had left the church long ago). So, through her generosity I learned a lot, and gradually she introduced me to others, and the hours of interviews accumulated until I was in a process and series of interactions unlike any I'd know. I guess I had interviews that became uncomfortable--sometimes people got angry, or defensive, or emotional in the recollection of their past, but sometimes it was just the nature of the conversation. For instance, one man, still a believer, took hold of me and asserted that "You and I are not physical beings, we're spiritual beings in these envelopes of flesh, and we're fortunate to meet in this physical plane and be able to have this conversation"--at first I was fearful, but after a short time I realized, "hey, this isn't so different from how I understand the world."

In a more specific way, two main things that startled me, when talking to people who'd been children in the church, really shaped my book: first, they described their childhoods so positively, so full of wonders--surrounded by invisible spirits that were protecting and helping them, given so much freedom in this beautiful landscape; they and their families had a truth that so few did, and they were using it to save the world; of course this was all in the context of the shelters, which one person described as "the coolest forts in the world," so far underground. And then the flipside of that wonder was that these same people, grown up and having left the church long ago, always found themselves revisited by the beliefs. In times of stress--danger, or life changes, pregnancy--they often found themselves decreeing (chanting) or praying these old prayers, acting in ways they thought they'd forgotten. There was this vestigial belief in them that they wished they could excise. They felt like there was something unpredictable, planted inside them, that they could not control.

AJ: I know you went into shelters. What happened down there?

PR: It was overwhelming. I mean, it was a little like traveling back to the eighties--all those artifacts, all that redwood paneling--but it was also traveling back into the memories and pasts of people I knew, and people who had since died. A little like a crypt? Or a monument to a potential future that didn't come to pass. All the children's clothing, the gas masks, the classrooms and generators, the radiation suits. And then I had this eerie sense, when down there, that I was inside my own head, walking around and around in the synapses, somehow, and living inside a story I was writing.

From the Back Cover:

"As luminous as it is sinister and innocent, The Shelter Cycle is a book not quite like any other. Peter Rock renders masterfully the ferocity and intensity of bonds between childhood friends as well as adults, coupling also the inescapable loneliness and yet hope within the human soul." — Rick Bass

"The Shelter Cycle is a stunning novel about faith and disillusionment and the lingering power of the past. In spare, lyrical prose, and with immense compassion . . . Rock's uncanny ability to combine mysticism with blunt realism is reminiscent of Flannery O'Connor." — Tom Perrotta

"The Shelter Cycle is a beautifully crafted, beautifully felt novel. Rock's rendering of place is, as usual, flawless. He knows terrain so well, both geographical and human, where we hide and where we can be found. The writing is fierce, smart, and moving. This is the real deal." — Percival Everett

"Certain writers are so unnervingly original their work secedes from our shared world and makes up a world of its own. With The Shelter Cycle it's clear that Peter Rock's world is the most singular and wondrous of them all." — Susan Choi

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