Book Review: The Pulse
Reviewed by Kathy L. Brown
One man’s gripping story of overcoming the odds against survival despite a world on fire and his own self-destructive impulses
In The Pulse, author Owen Garratt tell the saga of Jack Broderick’s fight to redeem himself in his children’s eyes by trekking across a post-apocalyptic United States to join them in the Pacific Northwest.
This book, the first in a series, sets up the ravages of the natural disaster on the world and Jack’s development arc as he reaches deep down for the strength to undertake the daunting task of traveling 3000 miles with no modern conveyance.
The story opens with a plane crash, then flashes back to just how Jack happened to be on that plane. Jack has a problem with authority figures, and authority figures really have a problem with Jack. Case in point: Jack punches out his new boss and must flee Tampa, one step ahead of the cops.
Meanwhile, unusual solar flare activity, including aurora borealis sightings as far south as Florida, foreshadow disaster. Jack boards a flight in nearby Clearwater, but as soon as the plane takes off, it crashes on the runway. Jack and the few survivors are shocked to see the city burning in the distance. And no first responders attending to their crashed plane.
As the night unfolds, Jack encounters personnel from the Coast Guard station on the airport property as well as a municipal firehouse. It becomes clear that due to the massive solar flares, society has been plunged back two hundred years in terms of technology.
Jack’s professional training, physical strength, and natural leadership qualities serve him in good stead as he works through the night to secure the Coast Guard facilities and mitigate dangers. He spends several days with the firefighters before beginning his journey home, but he finds more dangers on the roads through suburban Clearwater. Social systems are breaking down rapidly, and mob rule is the new norm.
The Pulse’s prose is skillful and the voice confident. The Pulse is Jack’s story; a world-wide natural disaster told from one man’s point of view. The reader only knows what Jack knows and sees what he sees. But Jack is a knowledgeable guy, and we quickly understand that surviving the journey to his family will be near-impossible.
A real page turner, The Pulse has loads of high-stakes conflict. It is told in a series of well-constructed scenes with strategically placed sequels for Jack’s internal processing. Jack has a lot to think about and many decisions to make. He is an interesting mix of a person who has all the skills needed to survive and thrive in this dire situation yet also has extremely low self-esteem. He has been eating and drinking his feelings for quite some time—an obese, functional alcoholic, drunk at the moment of the plane crash.
The reader experiences events along with Jack through telling sensory details and wonderful glimpses into the way Jack’s mind works, such as his tendency to anthropomorphize natural forces. This gives Jack an array of formidable antagonists, beyond the hostile authority figures and roaming mobs of looters.
For example, as Jack first sobers up enough to realize that his family is likely experiencing the same black-out conditions as he is in Florida, “A thrill of panic seized me. I gasped and froze. My stomach fell, and my heart leaped.” He continues, “…fear was…an entity. A living, corporeal thing—a parasite cursing our conscientiousness. Our living offended it. Like fire, it has a will. It wants to feed and grow. Unlike fire, fear is cold…paralyzing. Incapacitating.”
Female characters in The Pulse revolve primarily around Jack; whatever agency they might have had is let go of when they meet him. I wish we could have seen them grow through their own challenges and goals.
Readers who enjoy survival stories, from Robinson Crusoe to The Walking Dead, will find The Pulse an intriguing read, as well as anyone looking for a character-driven narrative with their disasters.
Genre: Science Fiction / Post-Apocalyptic Fiction
Print Length: 470 pages
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