Our Endless Numbered Days - 2015 Reading Challenge

A book with antonyms in the title

I love reading debut novels. I hope to have my own published within the next few years, so it's always exciting for me to see a debut come out and be a wonderful success the way Claire Fuller's Our Endless Numbered Days has. The fact that I finally found a book with antonyms in the title makes me happy too.

It's no surprise that a book borrowing a title from one of my favorite contemporary folk bands would have so much music throughout. Fuller admits that she listened to Iron & Wine non-stop while she wrote this novel, and it shows. The entire book has a haunting, lyrical quality and the language is full of vivid images, much like Sam Beam's lyrics.

The river was a deep green, scattered with rocks poking their noses up for a breath. The water charged around them, creating eddies and whirlpools. Closer to the bank, the current dragged lengths of weed along with it so it seemed that long-haired women swam just under the surface, never coming up for air.

Main character Peggy has spent the first eight years of her life in London with her famous German pianist mother and increasingly paranoid survivalist father. When Peggy's mother leaves for a concert tour, something in her father finally snaps and he takes her away from their house in London on a "holiday" through Europe.

They arrive days later at die Hütte, somewhere in the middle of nowhere Germany. Not long after their arrival at the broken-down shack, there is a horrible thunderstorm and Peggy's father tells her that the rest of the world has been destroyed. He and Peggy are the only two left. They must stay in die Hütte forever to avoid falling off the ends of the earth that now surround them--what he calls The Great Divide.

Our Endless Numbered Days is a classic tale of survival, with time jumps between the 1970s when Peggy and her father must learn to live off of their surroundings, and the 1980s when Peggy is reunited with her mother and is learning to live in a society that she thought was lost forever.

It's not coincidence to me that this story is so popular, with the ultra-successful new show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt gracing our Netflix accounts only a couple of months ago. But while that show comes from the angle of comedy and lightheartedness, Fuller paints what I believe to be a much more realistic picture of what a woman's life would be like if she'd spent nine years in an isolated cabin, thinking the world had ended.

Her teeth are rotten. Her growth has been stunted. She's missing part of one ear, none of her clothes fit, and she is caught between wanting to go back to the familiarity of the cabin and the joy of being with her mother again.

Peggy is the epitome of an unreliable narrator, which she admits early on in the novel:

The doctors say my brain plays tricks on me, that I have been deficient of vitamin B for too long and my memory doesn't work the way it should....They think I've forgotten things that really happened and have invented others.

Still, as a reader, I want to believe everything that she's saying. While some of it is horrible--their first winter where they nearly starve to death, and fights where her father physically and emotionally abuses her--other aspects of her story are beautiful, such as her father making a piano out of wood and stones, and teaching her how to play.

Early on in their time at the cabin, Peggy creates a nest for herself--a place all her own in the middle of the woods, made of moss and branches. When she is hiding there one day, she sees a pair of strange boots pass, but when she looks around, she is unable to find anyone.

Years on, it becomes apparent that there is indeed someone else who survived the end of the world. Peggy finds his name scratched into the wall of their cabin, and eventually comes upon him one day. Reuben is her first clue that her father may have been wrong about the world completely ending. While she is still convinced that not many have survived, she knows now that they are not alone.

The switch between past and present in this novel is handled expertly. Each chapter ending left me wanting more and acted as a thread pulling me through the story. I finished Our Endless Numbered Days in a day and a half, and found myself wishing there was another Claire Fuller novel to pick up. Hopefully, in a year or two, there will be.

What novel are you reading? I'm nearly finished with Hanif Kureishi's The Black Album, which will be my next review.