The Last Days of California
233 pages (hardcover)
The End Times. The Day of the Lord’s Wrath. The Great Tribulation. Judgment Day. The Rapture. The day when the good, saved people will fly away to Heaven, and the heathens will be left in a Hell on Earth (“Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” 1 Thessalonians 4:17).
Some, like the late Harold Camping (a Christian radio broadcaster, evangelist, and author), have predicted its date proper. Unfortunately, these predictions aren’t terribly scientific and haven’t yet hit the mark (Camping originally said the Rapture would occur on September 6, 1994. He then revised his prediction to May 21, 2011 . . . and then to October 21, 2011.).
But that just means there is more time to prepare! And, thankfully, helpful information abounds. Entire websites are dedicated to Rapture preparedness (like www.raptureready.com), and there are some very helpful YouTube videos (like this 25-minute masterpiece).
Fictional accounts of the Rapture are popular (and often highly entertaining), as well. HBO has a new series premiering on June 29 called The Leftovers, which is based on the novel of the same name by Tom Perrotta.
The show follows the people who are still here after the Rapture (or a Rapture-like event) takes place. The titular Leftovers are the loved ones of those who have disappeared.
There’s also the aptly-named The Rapture, a movie starring David Duchovny and Mimi Rogers that was released in 1991. I haven’t seen it, but it’s on a few “Best End-of-the-World Movies” lists (like this one and this one). And, judging by its DVD cover, it must be amazing.
Or you can check out the series of sixteen (!!) Christian dispensationalist End-Times books called Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, which has been adapted into multiple movies (starring Nic Cage!) by Cloud Ten Pictures (“Faith based Films to be inspired by!”).
And now you can add to that list The Last Days of California by Mary Miller, a quick novel about a family of four on a road trip from their home in Alabama to California during the last days before the Rapture (“It’ll be like nothing we could even imagine. There’ll be three 9/11s in a day—tornadoes in places that have never seen tornadoes and earthquakes where there are no fault lines. The sun’ll turn red as blood and bodies’ll be piled up everywhere. Thank God we won’t be around to see it.”).
The dad, John, is the one driving this trip (both literally and figuratively); he’s also the one who makes sure the family’s prayers are said before every meal and who encourages them to pass out “tracts” (pamphlets full of Rapture propaganda). Of the four, he is the most fiercely evangelical (“It was his thing, not believing in anything but God, as if to believe in anything else—man’s landing on the moon, global warming—would be disloyal.”), and he wants to save as many people as he can before the Rapture takes place. Mom, Barbara, is quietly supporting him along the way.
The first-person narrator is fifteen-year-old Jess, the daughter who has always been good and who has always followed in her Christian parents’ footsteps. But she is beginning to question her faith as the Rapture grows closer:
I wanted to believe we were special. I wanted to believe all of it—heaven and happiness and joy unlike anything I’d ever known. . . .I wanted to go back to the time when I hadn’t thought about whether or not I believed, when I’d gone to church and Sunday school and passed out tracts and it never occurred to me to question any of it. Now everything was in question, all at once, and it mattered.
Elise, her seventeen-year-old sister, isn’t helping matters. Elise is a heavy drinker and smoker, who says things like “goddammit” to make Jess cringe. She has just found out that she is pregnant, and, to top it all off, she’s a non-believer (“On Saturday night, I’m going to take off all my clothes and leave them on the grass at whatever shithole motel we’re staying in, and then I’m going to hide in a bush and watch everybody freak out.”). She is gorgeous and popular and everything Jess wants to be but is scared to become.
The entire book is set over the course of only four days: the three days leading up to the Rapture and the day of the Rapture itself. It’s a very short and fairly quick read, and the characters are largely likable (in their own quirky ways), but the writing is somewhat sloppy. I noticed several instances of confusing pronouns (so muddled and confusing, in fact, that I wondered if it was intentional–like a weird and unsuccessful effort to highlight Jess’s age/voice).
Much like a long road trip, the book is repetitive and a little boring, but punctuated with short moments of fun and humor and surprising spurts of action. Jess and fam do some praying and pass out a few Rapture pamphlets, but most of their trip (and the book) is spent driving, eating the kind of junk food you only eat on road trips (there is actually a lot of discussion of specific kinds of junk food–from Honey Buns to Burger King onion rings), and stopping at fast food joints, gas stations with attached restaurants, and cheap motels.
But lest you forget, Jess is fifteen, and (surprise, surprise) this is a coming-of-age tale. Amid the McMuffins and motel swimming pools, Jess does a lot of growing up. Her faith falters, she helps her sister through tough times, she questions her admiration of and unwavering obedience to her parents, and she has her first real experiences with drinking and boys. If that seems like a lot to go through in four days, that’s because it is. Jess’s growth and transformation seem rushed and unrealistic.
Who should read it: People who love long road trips, cheap motels, disgusting junk food, and coming-of-age tales . . . and who think the Rapture might just be fast approaching.
Want to read along with me? Reviews of these books are coming soon:
- Frog Music by Emma Donoghue (Donoghue is the author of the hugely popular Room; an Indie Next Pick for April 2014)
- Young God by Katherine Faw Morris (described as “terrifying and great,” “the best debut novel I’ve read since Fight Club,” and “like a bullet, like a bolt of lightning, like a speeding car”; an Amazon Best Book of the Month for May 2014)