For fans of Andy Weir’s "The Martian" (2014), David Yoon’s new postapocalyptic novel, "City of Orange" (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 352 pp., ★★★½ of four, out now) taps into the challenges of surviving – practically and psychologically – in a seemingly unfamiliar setting.
"City of Orange" works as a character study, seesawing back and forth between fractured memory and a mysterious reality. The novel’s lead character, unnamed throughout the book, wakes up in a desert discombobulated and trying to find the pieces to the puzzle of his former life. Yoon ("Super Fake Love Song," "Version Zero") cultivates a slow burn, an approach that creates intimacy to the internal conflict of a man trying to untangle his past and survive at the same time.
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Reminiscent of Emily St. John Mandel's "Station Eleven" and Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend," the plot of "City of Orange" centers on the isolating trauma of being one of the last people alive on a postapocalyptic Earth. A traumatic brain injury and lost memory means that the main character has to uncover two core truths: how the world ended, and the loss of his family. Those two goals drive the novel, making the character deeply relatable in his pursuit.
Yoon finds a way to weave in core parts of being human, including mental health struggles, complicated relationships and the wide-ranging effects of technology. But the heart of "City of Orange" is the main character’s amnesia battle between subconscious and conscious as it relates to memories of his wife and daughter. Not only can he not find them, he can barely even place their faces.
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Whether it’s discovering shelter, finding food or simply managing in brutal conditions, the ever-challenging backdrop of "City of Orange" makes the determining of reality a mystery readers will want to solve alongside the main character. That’s this novel’s biggest feat: By giving just enough vivid detail but keeping key elements ambiguous, a reader can easily morph into the main character and become a part of this world.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'City of Orange': David Yoon's must-read post-apocalyptic book