Book Twenty-Seven: This Is the Way the World Ends

I actually finished this yesterday, but I was feeling too lazy to write about it, so I’m writing about it today instead. This book was lent to me by F, who says its one of her favourite books, and since F has generally good taste, I had high expectations.

My expectations were not disappointed. This book is in fact completely awesome. Not just because it’s a post-apocalyptic story which involves nuclear holocaust, the unadmitted, and Nostradamus. It’s also just a darn good book. This made me especially happy because I haven’t been a big fan of the last couple of books which were recommended/sent to me, and I’m getting kind of tired of bagging on books that people like, because it makes me feel like a dick.

I really liked the structure of this book. There wasn’t a lot of mucking about with backstory, Morrow just plunged right on into it. By page 56, there was a nuclear holocaust which had engulfed our main character, who was snatched from the jaws of the disaster to meet all of the people who would never be born because of the blast. These people are known as the unadmitted, in a reference to the fact that they weren’t admitted to the world, and they are understandably angry that the human race blew itself up before they could get to enjoy the world.

As it turns out, the unadmitted have decided to put our main character on trial, along with five others, representing the remains of the human race. In the trial, we learn more about the characters and the events which brought about nuclear war and the end of pretty much all life on Earth. Morrow also puts the concept of nuclear war itself on trial in the book, along with the concept of deterrence. Given that it was written in an era when nuclear war was still a very real threat, Morrow’s indictment of nuclear stockpiling was especially apt.

In addition to being an excellent social commentary, This Is the Way the World Ends is also a masterpiece of surrealist fiction. It reminded me of Joseph Heller at his finest, dark and sardonic and intensely witty. If I hadn’t had Vonnegut shoved so far down my throat that I choked on it, I might compare Morrow to Vonnegut, too. Instead I’ll stick with Murakami; Morrow shares a lot of traits with Murakami including sparse, clear, elegant writing which is at once brutally simple and unimaginably complex.

It’s a little early to pick a favourite book for the month, but this one is definitely a strong contender.


This Is the War the World Ends, by James Morrow. Published 1986, 319 pages. Fiction.