You Were The Last by Angie Kenny is an evocative collection of ten interconnected short stories based around the idea of being alone when everyone around you is suddenly gone.
The theme of the book is mostly literal, with an unknowable and unexplainable mass disappearance occurring suddenly in the lives of each character, and leaving them alone to ponder their circumstances. The result is an introspective journey of the lives of two strangers who are faced with something they could never be fully prepared for, and how their experiences color their situations and their emotional lives.
Kenny’s writing style is engagingly conversational, with a constant flow of thought and action, and little to interrupt or temper the flow. Characters narrate most everything they do from something as mundane as checking Twitter to existential crises about the death of God. It’s a portrait of our everyday lives taken to an exalted level, allowing Kenny to explore human lives not just in times of crisis, but also what it means to be human in the modern world.
A misstep is there is little to distinguish the inner monologue from the first-person narrative for much of the book, with mixed tenses and subtly shifted perspectives dotted throughout each page, leading to some degree of confusion. It’s something that could have been easily improved by, perhaps, simply marking out those inner dialogues and brushing up the grammar to clear up these discrepancies. Even though it’s a relatively minor mistake, it is so basic and prevalent throughout the book that it’s hard to ignore.
Despite this issue, the book does have a lot to offer, with the detail-oriented approach and conversational attitude maturing as the stories go on. The book is full of characters who have plenty to give once they begin to open up and interact more meaningfully. There are memorable scenes of micro-aggressions, profound internal dialogues, and tiny tells that put you right in the head of each character. Kenny dives into the psychology of this unique event and how nihilism, grief, and relief can all come together in different ways in people to create vastly different reactions.
There are some truly potent moments that are derived from simple conversation. The success of this read comes from the small moments it offers. The overall plot of each individual story or the loose meta-thread of the book overall is less effective than the mood it creates. There’s also a refreshingly casual and considerate attitude toward sex and sexuality that deserves recognition for being particularly well-executed, and far from egregious or token. The collection feels genuinely modern in its portrayal of how people act, and how technology is pervasive in people’s lives.
A slow-burner that’s worth the wait, You Were The Last is an evocatively introspective read that deals with love and loss in a creative and memorable way.
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