The Last Town on Earth: A Novel

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9781400065202: The Last Town on Earth: A Novel

Set against the backdrop of one of the most virulent epidemics that America ever experienced–the 1918 flu epidemic–Thomas Mullen’s powerful, sweeping first novel is a tale of morality in a time of upheaval.

Deep in the mist-shrouded forests of the Pacific Northwest is a small mill town called Commonwealth, conceived as a haven for workers weary of exploitation. For Philip Worthy, the adopted son of the town’s founder, it is a haven in another sense–as the first place in his life he’s had a loving family to call his own.

And yet, the ideals that define this outpost are being threatened from all sides. A world war is raging, and with the fear of spies rampant, the loyalty of all Americans is coming under scrutiny. Meanwhile, another shadow has fallen across the region in the form of a deadly illness striking down vast swaths of surrounding communities.

When Commonwealth votes to quarantine itself against contagion, guards are posted at the single road leading in and out of town, and Philip Worthy is among them. He will be unlucky enough to be on duty when a cold, hungry, tired–and apparently ill–soldier presents himself at the town’s doorstep begging for sanctuary. The encounter that ensues, and the shots that are fired, will have deafening reverberations throughout Commonwealth, escalating until every human value–love, patriotism, community, family, friendship–not to mention the town’s very survival, is imperiled.

Inspired by a little-known historical footnote regarding towns that quarantined themselves during the 1918 epidemic, The Last Town on Earth is a remarkably moving and accomplished debut.

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Review:

Wow. This stunning book succeeds on so many different levels--as an engrossing story, a character study, a history lesson, a modern day political allegory--I don't even know where to begin the praise. The Last Town on Earth centers on the inhabitants of a small logging town in Washington and what happens when they take drastic measures (quarantine) to try and protect themselves from the virulent and deadly flu epidemic of 1918. When a deserting WWI soldier demands sanctuary, events are set in motion that change the town forever.

Although this is Mullen's first published work, there are none of the usual verbal pyrotechnics or high-wire "look how well I can write" balancing acts one sees with beginning authors. How refreshing to read a younger author who has already progressed beyond his ego and knows that it's all about story, story, story. Mullen tells his tale cleanly, simply and plainly--making the ironies and allegories all the more potent. I knew almost nothing of the flu epidemic of 1918 and even less about the political climate in the US during WW1. These are not subjects I would go out of my way to read about, but Mullen has made them compelling and interesting. In fact, the author's voice has the same level of confidence and maturity that one only finds in writers with decades more experience (I kept thinking of Wallace Stegner and Alice Munro while I was reading)--authors who earn your trust and confidence so early and easily that you completely relax into the writing and the voice. It's already on my Ten Best List; I can't imagine I'll read ten better books this year. It's easily the most impressive and heartfelt book I've read in a long while. --Terry Goodman

About the Author:

Thomas Mullen was born in Rhode Island and lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife. He is at work on a new novel.

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