Pros: This is a debut novel?! Wow!
Rating: 5 out of 5
Getting books for review is a gamble–you never know whether you’ll be reading crud or a literary diamond. Most books fall into the middle ground, but not Alexandra Oliva’s debut novel: The Last One. This is one of those so-good-I-want-MORE books.
There are two parallel stories going on. In one, a bunch of people have signed up for a survivalism-themed reality TV show, because, money. We get to see enough of the behind-the-scenes to keep that interesting, while also showing us all the changes that these people undergo as they’re placed into more and more stressful encounters. It doesn’t help that members of the production company seem to be coming down sick.
In the parallel story, there’s a woman (a contestant from the challenge) who seems to be in deep trouble. It doesn’t take long to realize that she still thinks she’s in the Challenge, that dead bodies are props, signs are possible clues, and strangers must be cameramen.
The portion of the book devoted to the ‘game’ is not campy, as you might expect when seeing the premise. Instead, it’s fascinating. It’s a great look at how people’s fault lines sheer off when they undergo extreme trials. Right away the production company sort of assigns roles; instead of names they label Tracker, the Waitress, Asian Chick (who eventually ends up Asian Carpenter when her wood-working background comes in handy), Exorcist (the wild card crazy man), Engineer, Zoo, and more. Interestingly, there is no voting anyone out of the club. The concept is that a person wins only when everyone else has ceded via a ‘safeword’ phrase. There is no pre-prescribed end goal other than who can stick it out longer.
The game contestants run the gamut in terms of background, personality, and ability to deal with others. The extensive contest serves to turn nearly all of them into detailed, nuanced characters, seen at both their best and their worst. The parallel story gets darker and darker as time moves on. I can’t say much about it without revealing all of the excellent material near the end.
Dear Ms. Oliva: Please write more!
Book provided free by publisher for review
Expected publication date: July 12, 2016