For the past five years, when someone has asked for a book recommendation, I’ve always said, “Have you read Station Eleven yet?”
It happened just last week. My friend was looking for a new audiobook to enjoy, and when I asked her the question, she responded, “Yes, I read it the first time you recommended it to me.”
The book haunted me the first time I read it, and has become the most well worn paperback on my bookshelf at home. I recently read Station Eleven for the third time…I think. It might be the fourth.
So it’s undeniable that this book, my hands-down, desert-island favorite, has inspired my writing.
If you haven’t read it, (why not?! Get to it!) Station Eleven chronicles the interwoven paths of characters who have survived a population-decimating virus. One of my favorite passages is when Clark, who is stranded in an airport, comes to realize the true scope of the pandemic at hand.
A final plane was landing, an Air Gradia jet, but as Clark watched, it made a slow turn on the tarmac and moved away from instead of toward the terminal building. It parked in the far distance, and no ground crew went to meet it. Clark abandoned his nachos and went to the window. It occurred to him that the Air Gradia jet was as far away from the terminal as it could possibly go. This was where he was standing when the announcement came: for public-health reasons, the airport was closing immediately. There would be no flights for the indefinite future. All passengers were asked to collect their bags at Baggage Claim, to leave the premises in an orderly fashion, and to please not flip out.
“This can’t be happening,” the passengers said to each other and to themselves, over nacho platters and in angry clusters in front of vending machines. They swore at airport management, at the TSA, at the airlines, at their useless phones, furious because fury was the last defense against understanding what the news stations were reporting. Beneath the fury was something literally unspeakable, the television news carrying an implication that no one could yet bring themselves to consider. It was impossible to comprehend the scope of the outbreak, but it wasn’t possible to comprehend what it meant. Clark stood by the terminal’s glass wall in the Mexican restaurant, watching the stillness of the Air Gradia jet in the far distance, and he realized later that if he didn’t understand at that moment why it was out there alone, it was only because he didn’t want to know.
The book is packed with engaging dialogue, exchanges between characters who do and do not remember the time before, when electricity and automobiles and computers and the internet were everyday conveniences instead of artifacts of a long-missed era.
But it is in these quiet moments of individual reflection that the book transcends cause and effect to convey how each character reacts to a similar chain of events.
Author Emily St. John Mandel, explained in an interview that the airport scenes in Station Eleven were inspired by the events of September 11. When U.S. airspace closed, large jets landed at various modestly sized Canadian airports, leaving passengers to wait and wonder there as the day’s news developed.
As I continue my first true foray into the world of fiction writing, I think often about how shared events can affect people in ways that can be vastly differing, though similar at the core.