Reminiscent of The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, this story plays after a nuclear war destroyed just about all U.S. cities, presumably through missiles launched by terrorists from the Middle East. We don’t find out if there is anything left in the rest of the world, but we do know that the United States of America no longer exists. The story starts 40 years after total nuclear destruction of civilization. Most of the country is destroyed by radiation. There are pockets of survivors hanging on in little villages they created, but most of the people left are degenerates, feral human offspring of survivors that never experienced civilization. They live under unspeakable conditions and have resorted to cannibalism for survival.
The Old Man leaves the village on a quest, just like in Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. We never find out his name. Nobody has a name, just like in The Road. In addition to the point of view of the Old Man, the writer provides the viewpoint of a feral boy as well as a wolf.
Reading The Old Man and the Wasteland is both depressing and uplifting at the same time. It is frightening to contemplate how quickly humanity could deteriorate to savagery if institutions, laws, security, shelter and all infrastructure disappeared. Survival of the fittest, and this means unfortunately the strongest and often most brutal, takes over. Little of what we know as humanity would be left.
The Old Man believes it might be otherwise. Will he prevail?
I know I will need to stop at Picacho Peak between Yuma and Tucson next time I drive there and let things sink in for a while.