Luke Prochnow strikes an unusual balance of darkness in his post-apocalyptic Western novella A Far Cry From Living. In a world reminiscent of others like Fallout‘s New Vegas and other “Westernpunk” works, the book is unflinching in its descriptions of the violence, murder, paranoia and slavery, but makes the right choice of situations to view, and the right levels of horror and brutality for each chapter.
Descriptions are never egregious or gratuitous, focusing on the slow, dry feel of an empty and dead desert populated by the desperate and lonely, and sorrow and regret permeate the entire book in a far more stark and brutal.
Teeth are used for currency – why would dollars be used when a collection of unique, story-involved, unduplicable teeth would better represent your standing? – life is both precious and negligible, and a day-to-day survival, alone, is a near necessity.
The main character, Gregory, is by no means a typical protagonist for this kind of story; Gregory is “just a kid”, a kid who doesn’t enjoy his position, doesn’t have any joy or purpose in his life, who never feels thankful just pitying when seeing horrors he has been spared from. He is the kind of character who carries a weapon as a burden, never choosing to pick up a new or better one, often considering throwing what he has away to be rid of it. Alongside what seems to be a talking pocket watch named Elvis who seems to be a key to an unusual case of amnesia, Gregory, in his desperation for a pair of binoculars, is convinced to assassinate a man over a vague reasoning, and he must struggle with himself as to whether he can, if not ever could, kill.
The story is beautifully written. A short, it fills its 134 pages perfectly. The pace never dawdles and it never rushes, but it drinks in specific details enough that every chapter is alive in a very desolate and lonely way. Each new character is memorable in the small cast, and even someone appearing for only a few pages sticks out. Every aspect of the story has a sense of melancholy and loss, even with those who seem to flourish in the lawless wastes having an air of regret or a sense of lost humanity about them that sticks out without ever being explicitly pushed in front of you. The story is very much unique, taking aspects of the post-apocalyptic genres and Westerns and putting them together for what ends up in many ways as a coming of age tale for Gregory, despite in many ways such a term is inappropriate. The story is twisted without being vile, and while fairly linear it can be hard to work out where the story may be heading at times, with a racked up sense of tension throughout as doubt gathers about anything and everything, right up to the ending.
It’s hard to describe the book’s strengths without giving a lot of the story away, so I would recommend that if the gorgeous cover or anything about this review strikes a positive chord with you that you pick it up. For the right readers it may leave a long-lasting impression.