Tell me if this doesn’t sound like a dream come true for those who regularly visit survivalist forums: In the near-future, the United States experiences a collapse of its economic institutions, which leads to the collapse of every social institution mankind has built to function as a society. All order has been destroyed, and from now on your survival against the challenges of nature, both human and not, depends on nothing but yourself. The classical dog-eat-dog world is in session.
Hiram, the protagonist in Darin Bradley’s debut novel Noise, has spent his formative years immersed in the group narratives that he and his friends have created through playing Dungeons & Dragons, defeating monsters and rescuing the disadvantaged, as knights are wont to do. But for Hiram, being a knight wasn’t something he was when you were transported into an imaginary world; it was his identity. Throughout his life, Hiram’s goal has been to find a model, a narrative, from which to make sense of the world around him, be it his family, his knighthood, or religion, but they all end up failing him.
I tried to convince myself once, when I was a teenager, that I felt God. Alone in the sanctuary, accompanying my mom on an evening errand to the church. I stared at the ceiling and drew deep breath as quickly as I could. I told our youth minister in his ball cap that I had felt Him. That I was blessed.
But in the end, it was only the wind and the rain, making noise in the darkness.
Now in college, before the collapse, Hiram and Levi, his best friend still from the days of D&D, have become part of Salvage, an underground pirate group that have taken hold of the old analog wavelengths to broadcast advice and plans for how to conduct yourself when the inevitable collapse comes. In a way, Salvage is just another group for Hiram to build his own identity around. He stops going to classes, starts spending his money on supplies that he and his eventual group will need to survive, and he and Levi begin to write The Book, a sort of instruction manual built from the disparaging sources of Salvage, and ranging from how to escape to your designated safe house, to how to set up the government of your new community. Above all, The Book emphasizes the need to take on a new identity and build a new narrative for yourself and your family, a narrative that will serve you for the changed times you will be living. You take on new names, and by extension you become a new self.
The collapse happens, and Hiram is one of the first to recognize it for what it is: the collapse of the old world; the beginning of a new one. Some believe it to be but a passing moment, that the institutions in place to protect them will spring up and protect those they’ve sworn to protect, forgetting that they also have their own families to think about and protect. Others, panicked and unprepared for the coming days, take to looting the stores around town for what they’ll need to survive. In one of the most haunting and revealing passages in Noise, Hiram and Levi hide behind bushes, watching as people leave the supermarket with supplies in hand. They put on masks as a way to disassociate their persona with the violence they are about to inflict. They wait for a target to exit the store; there’s no need to waste energy fighting other people for the things you want, potentially risking your life, when others can do it for you. Hiram emerges from the bushes and sees a female target, running. “I didn’t even stand. I just swung the sword into a pair of running shins.”
Bradley uses a stream-of-consciousness style that reminded me somewhat of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, and regularly jumps around in both time and place, emulating the inchoate thoughts going through Hiram’s mind as events beget memories, and memories beget more memories. As with most novels that employ this style, it was a bit confusing at first while I was still adapting my reading context to the novel’s, but once I got used to it I found that I couldn’t imagine it being written in any other way.
Noise was written, by Bradley’s own admission, before the economic crisis of 2008 hit its full swing, but it certainly feels like the direct answer to those events, and to the general mistrust in the modern economic-political landscape. I think I’ve put it best in this review’s tagline; Darin Bradley’s Noise is the Lord of the Flies for our modern times, and it certainly is a dystopic imagining that feels more possible, and therefore more relatable, than Golding’s.
I wouldn’t have noticed this book if Bradley’s newest novel, Chimpazee, hadn’t been included in Locus’ 2014 Recommended Reading List, and it’s a shame there isn’t more buzz surrounding both the book and its author. Noise is certainly a recommended read.