For fans of “The Martian” by Andy Weir (2014), the new post-apocalyptic novel by David Yoon, “City of Orange” (GP Putnam’s Sons, 352 pp., ★★★½ of four, available now) harnesses the challenges of survival – practically and psychologically – in a seemingly unfamiliar setting.
“City of Orange” functions as a character study, oscillating between fractured memory and mysterious reality. The novel’s main character, nameless throughout the book, wakes up in a bewildered wasteland and tries to find the puzzle pieces of his former life. Yoon (“Super Fake Love Song,” “Version Zero”) cultivates a slow burn, an approach that creates intimacy to the inner conflict of a man trying to unravel his past and survive at the same time.
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reminding 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 living people on a post-apocalyptic Earth. A traumatic brain injury and memory loss mean that the main character must discover two fundamental truths: the end of the world and the loss of his family. These two goals drive the novel, making the character deeply relatable in her pursuit.
Yoon finds a way to weave together essential elements of being human, including mental health issues, complicated relationships, and the large-scale effects of technology. But the heart of “City of Orange” is the main character’s amnesia battle between subconscious and conscious regarding the memories of his wife and daughter. Not only can he not find it, but he can barely place their faces.
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Whether discovering shelter, finding food, or simply coping with brutal conditions, the ever-difficult backdrop of “City of Orange” makes the determination of reality a mystery that readers will want to solve alongside the main character. This is the novel’s greatest feat: by giving just enough vivid detail but keeping the key elements ambiguous, a reader can easily transform into the main character and become part of this world.