White Horse, Alex Adams’s debut, is post-apocalyptic novel, the first of a trilogy, that may appeal to some—but I'm not one of them, I’m afraid.
Adams’ heroine Zoe is a thirty-year-old widow at loose ends. She inherited an apartment in the city and apparently has no trouble making ends even though she works as a janitor for Pope Pharmaceuticals. Zoe could be doing other things—she’s intelligent and talented—but she is content for now to have a non-demanding day job and to resist the attempts of family and friends to fix her up with a man.
One day she finds a jar has been placed inside her well-protected domicile. Someone has obviously broken in, but nothing is taken; just a jar has mysteriously arrived. Unnerved, she starts to see a therapist, claiming the jar is a dream because she’s afraid he’ll think her insane if she admits it’s real.
With the jar sitting untouched in her apartment, Zoe sees Nick, her handsome therapist with whom she is developing a greater-than-therapeutic rapport. She is occasionally required to undergo physicals at work, during which she is given a mandatory flu shot.
Soon Zoe notices people in her building becoming ill. First they appear to have the flu, then they seem to recover only to drop dead. It’s not just in her building, however, it’s everywhere. Adding to world misery, a war is raging over the technology to control the weather. The Chinese knock out the Internet, and the U.S. in plunged back into the era of broadcast television.
All this happened “before.” “Now” Zoe is traveling through war- and sickness-ravaged Europe, doing what it takes to stay alive. The illness, which an Evangelical preacher named “White Horse” after one of the four horses of the Apocalypse, has decimated 80% of the world’s population. Of those who survive, many have genetic mutations. (Some turn into man-eating animals; others grow grotesque extra appendages.)
There is so much about this book that doesn’t work for me. The narrative has momentum but is marred by clumsy metaphors and its disjointed structure. The story jumps back and forth between “now” and “then,” starting with “now,” until the two timelines meet. This construction is absolutely unnecessary for Zoe’s story to be suspenseful; in fact, suspense would have been heightened in a linear telling starting from the beginning instead of with the horrible outcome of the White Horse plague.
Another pet peeve: Alex Adams appears to know very little about psychotherapy, because Zoe’s therapist is exceedingly unprofessional. He is altogether too familiar with Zoe and continues to treat her even after making a pass at her.
Another quandary: Why two apocalyptic elements, White Horse and an unrelated world war? Either one is suitable for Adams’ purposes. Having both is not necessarily a bad thing, but the way the war over the weather is treated is so cursory, it seems to have been added to the plot just to knock out the Internet.
Believe it or not, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the novel at all. End-of-the-world stories have a narrative drive that makes you turn pages, and White Horse shares that attribute. I think this book could have worked well with a strong editorial hand to guide it. As it is, I’d have to say unless the plot elements intrigue you, I wouldn’t recommend it.