Friday, April 1, 2011

Cold Earth, The Novel Not The World I Live In


Cold Earth? I need to read a book with that title this winter? This winter, not last winter because even though it is spring according to the calendar since we got more snow today, April first, winter is still thriving. Yikes.

Cold Earth (the book not my environment) is an end of the world chiller. Five archaeologists and a writer gather in Greenland during the Arctic summer to search for traces of Viking settlements. Not long after they set up camp and get started on the dig they receive news of an epidemic back home. Before they have time to grasp that news they lose all communication with the world outside of their camp. They then realize that the group's organizer has made a possibly fatal mistake in planning the trip. This mistake might cost them their lives even if the epidemic does not. Winter comes and when the plane scheduled to pick them up never arrives things go from really bad to Holy Crap bad.

Can you see where this is going? I hear you but getting there is half the fun, right? After author Sarah Moss sets up her six citizens alone at the edge of the world she gets to work. Backgrounds, agendas, instabilities and loyalties quickly emerge. The uncertainty of the group's future, of their survival is only part of the dramatic tension Cold Earth has to offer. Moss antes up the creepy with figures lurking in the shadows, the dig site disturbed when none of the archaeologists were there, unidentifiable lights, screaming nightmares and sabotage.

Each of the six are compelled to leave some record of their experience for the loved ones they pray are still alive to receive them. These letters they write make up the novel. I almost didn't read this book when I realized that it was written as a series of letters. I generally do not like that format. It's too stop-start, too contrived. It's even worse than reading short stories. However, the letter devise does work for this novel. The archaeologists have been studying the letters of the dead their entire careers. It seems natural that they would choose to leave letters behind for someone else to discover.

I obviously got past my prejudices because I was completely taken with Cold Earth. Sarah Moss successfully creates not only six disparate, non-cliche filled characters who all handle their circumstances differently but a realistically spooky impending death sentence for them. She has a field day with ideas: immortality, sanity, love and death. The end of Cold Earth feels a bit rushed but maybe that's because I was enjoying it so much.


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