Skyline Press, 2012.
The first half of this book was a real slog. The toil turned out to be worthwhile, though: the second half, especially the ending, is fantastic.
‘Leaving’ is mostly the story of Sam, a middle-aged man, as he travels across the continental United States, east to west. He leaves his home in Boston in pursuit of his daughter, who moved to San Francisco some years before. The whole country has suffered some kind of (frustratingly underdescribed) calamity, which has led to most of the population emigrating.
The story follows Sam as he travels, mostly walking, and deals with the runins with bandits, shut-ins, and kind samaritans that you would expect in the post-apocalyptic setting. However, most of the action, such as it is, occurs in Sam’s head. As I mentioned before, this part of the book is rather plodding; Sam has plenty of time to mull over the many, many failings of his life. His laundry-list of mistakes and bad decisions is fun for a while, but becomes repetitive quickly. When it comes to stories like this, it can work when flashbacks are interspersed.
His relationship with his daughter isn’t explored too deeply in these sections, which makes their meeting all the more interesting. The meeting itself is rather abrupt, but the relationship which emerges afterwards is poignant and heartbreaking. She has been working in the rapidly-fading seaside city, unable to leave, while seemingly everyone else is fleeing the country.
As a fan of apocalypses and related ephemera, I was disappointed by the lack of exploration of the calamity itself. Like The Road, the event and its causes are alluded to only vaguely. The important part is what happens afterwards.
I don’t want to spoil anything: you’ll just have to read it yourself.