Tyler and Anna Mayfield, a young married couple looking for their place in life, move to Wormwood, Nevada from Lincoln, Nebraska. In Wormwood they find a desolate town filled with disenchanted people, drug dealers, a meteor impact in the center of town, alien cultists, and eventually actual aliens. A rock-em sock-em science fiction thriller, right? Well, actually, not so much.
What attracted me to this novel was actually sampling the first couple of pages after reading the book blurb. It reads more like literary fiction than plot driven science fiction. David Oppegaard’s prose are character focused and deeply immersive. He alternates between Tyler’s point-of-view and Anna’s. He takes his time, and the end result is a real feel for this town and especially for Tyler and Anna. I couldn’t resist this literary beast in science fiction clothing. Unfortunately for Oppegaard, the way the book is presented from the promotional material will mostly attract a science fiction thriller crowd, who will likely be disappointed. Some of the negative reviews seem to reflect exactly this opinion. The literary reader who might really enjoy this, may never even know it exists.
Oppegaard treats the science fiction content in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, giving us the stuff you’d expect from old fashioned pulp magazines or B movies. Don’t expect cutting edge science fiction concepts here, because it isn’t the point. The science fiction elements, the cultists, and even the desolate town itself are mirrors for the yearning inside Tyler and Anna. Tyler has never gotten over the childhood disappearance of his older brother, nor ever stopped wondering what life even means in the light of such an event. Anna is a former beauty queen who feels like the world wants her to apologize for having enjoyed that life, and who fears that the future holds no more than a slow fading away from her former glory.
Tyler and Anna are all of us at some point in our life, questioning what it all means. The coming of the aliens seems like the moment when all such questions will finally be answered. But then they are gone, the next day dawns, and all the old questions are still there. In the end, I believe Oppegaard is telling us that there are no such universal answers, and that we must each quest for our own meaning in our own way. And that the quest is a lifetime journey with no real end. All in all a very worthwhile read, assuming you understand what you’re getting yourself into, and not getting yourself into, with this novel.