This is the type of book that’s tricky to review, because a big part of the story is not knowing what is going on. To discuss plot points, then, inevitably spoils the revelations the narrator has along the way.
The premise is this: a man wakes up with a head injury and no real memory of anything, other than knowing the world has ended and he must try to survive in this post-apocalyptic world. Memories return in flashes, often triggered by images or words found in the detritus scattered under the overpass serving as his home for the moment. Some are helpful, like the time spent with a survivalist friend. But others seem too painful, so he does what he can to avoid them. But he seems unlikely to survive if he can’t figure out what happened to humanity.
David Yoon does a masterful job of weaving in humor among the wreckage of a man and his world. As our narrator attempts to piece things together and survive, he makes jokes to himself or compares his situation to a variety of books and movies from Robinson Crusoe to Cast Away. He wonders what might be going on in the rest of the world, what happened to the survivalists, and whether anyone might be searching for him. But as those thoughts form, he immediately tries to run from them, as though his brain still knows that nothing but pain and danger lurk in that direction. And yet, he can’t avoid them.
Dystopian/apocalyptic stories used to be some of my favorites. But over the recent past, they’ve become much harder for me to read. (For instance, I loved Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower, but it also caused my anxiety to spike while reading. To Paradise was another example, specifically the last third.) I didn’t really have that problem with City of Orange. Maybe it was the humor or the narrowness of focus (all we know is what our narrator sees around him). Or maybe I’ve just gotten better about it.* Whatever the reason, if you’ve found yourself burnt out on the genre or uneasy about stepping in, this is a good book to test the waters. And if you still love these stories, it’s a great addition.
*Between writing that sentence and posting this review, I’ve collected more data, and nope, I haven’t gotten better about it.