The end of the world is no excuse for eating French fries.
That’s a lesson 7-year-old Sunny Donelly learns from her father, Rob, who tries to give her as normal a childhood as possible in the post-pandemic landscape of Mike Chen’s A Beginning at the End (MIRA, 2020).
Trying to be a good dad, Rob showers Sunny with attention and gives her fatherly advice, telling her, for instance, that lying is bad and that French fries aren’t healthy. But there’s an all-important thing he hasn’t told her: that her mom is dead, the victim of an accident during the outbreak that killed billions.
Rob isn’t the only one trying to outrun his past with a lie. The other main characters—Moira Gorman, a former pop star, and Krista Deal, an event planner—are also hiding secrets.
Set six years after the pandemic, Chen’s second novel imbues a San Francisco that feels almost like our own with a haunting sense of loss. But while trauma hovers over his characters’ lives, resiliency, loyalty and love ultimately prevail.
What if “something absolutely catastrophic happened and you try to pick up after that?” Chen tells in his appearance on New Books in Science Fiction, explaining the question that inspired the book. “The story I wanted to tell was… what if infrastructure and all the things that we’ve come to rely on are still existent in some form, but 70 percent of the people in the world are just gone? What you’re left with is not a survival tale but a trauma tale.”
Chen appeared on New Books in Science Fiction last year to discuss his first book, Here and Now and Then.