Today I did something I haven’t done in a long time. I sat down to read a book. Not an e-book on the Kindle, or an audiobook, but a good old-fashioned physical paper book. And at only 192 pages, I was able to get through the entire thing in one sitting.
The book in question is one I tweeted about a few days ago, The Long Loud Silence by Wilson Tucker. It’s been on my “to read” list for years. Many, many years, because the book is older than I am. But even though I’ve always known about it, I’ve never gotten around to tracking it down until now. And because it’s not available on the Kindle, that means buying a physical copy.
Written in 1952, The Long Loud Silence follows Corporal Russell Gary as he awakens from a long night of drinking to discover that the portion of the United States east of the Mississippi has been devastated by atomic bombs and biological weapons. What’s worse is that survivors of the attack are now quarantined and forbidden from crossing the river to reach the safety of the untouched western states. And Corporal Gary is on the wrong side of the river.
I wanted to read it because as a 1950s atomic war novel, I was expecting talk of bomber crews, civil defense plans, Strategic Air Command, and having the “Ruskies” be the bad guys; a typical cold-war era scenario. But there’s really none of that in this book. Like many end of the world novels from around this time, it’s very “cosy catastrophe“ish. Corporal Gary literally sleeps through the apocalypse, and other than a few bodies and some burning cities, we don’t hear much about exactly what happened, or who did it.
But that’s not to say I was disappointed. Gary’s adventures are plenty entertaining, though being written in the 50s, there are few tropes that you probably wouldn’t see in a modern novel. Most of the women in the book need a man to help them survive, and can only provide sex in return. And seeing the phrase “That’s damned white of you” caught me by surprise.
But it does have the usual themes of scavenging for supplies, and defending what’s yours from marauders, and a surprising amount of violence for a book from that time. Strangely, there are only allusions to Gary’s use of profanity, but someone takes a shotgun blast to the face, there are many cold-blooded murders, and there’s a decent amount of cannibalism.
That last bit about cannibalism leads me to something I now wish I hadn’t found out. After reading the Wikipedia page for the book, it appears that the original ending had Gary eating one of the characters, à la A Boy and His Dog from some 20 years later. If that ending had never been published, it wouldn’t be so bad, but apparently, it was released in the Swedish version from 1979. So now it’s going to drive me nuts until I can find it and re-translate it back to English, just so I can say that I’ve read it.
It’s kind of like the novel Down to a Sunless Sea, which has two different endings, one of which I’ve still not read and am still on the look out for.
But in any case, even though The Long Loud Silence wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, I’m still happy to have read it, and to be able to cross it off my list. It won’t take a large investment in time to read it, so if you happen to come across a copy for a good price, I would definitely suggest you pick it up.
And if you have a lead on a digital version of “Den långa tystnaden”, I’d appreciate it if you pass it on.