My #FridayReads: The Last Policeman

by Rachael on October 13, 2017

In the news and my semi-toxic Twitter feed, I watch the willful and astonishingly stupid unraveling of the foundations of the Pax Americana with growing dread that my worst dreams may soon be realized. How can I live with my fear of civilization-ending catastrophe, of total annihilation of all that I love?

Of course, I do live with this fear that runs like magma under all that I do. Here I am, alive and afraid! So the question as I usually ask it is not quite right; really what I want to know is how to live skillfully in the midst of my fear.

It was to help me think about this question that I read Ben H. Winters’s The Last Policeman trilogy within a week after I heard Brooke Gladstone’s interview with the author on On the Media. The trilogy tells about living through the six months before the apocalyptic impact of an asteroid on Earth. While civilization disintegrates around him, the protagonist, Hank Palace, carries on his work as a detective (promoted early due to attrition on the force), solving murders despite the prevalence of suicide and increasingly unhinged violence, and seeking missing persons despite the propensity of people to vanish into bunkers of various kinds or in pursuit of their bucket lists.

His world and his prospects may be bleak, but Palace’s story is moving and beautiful. He has no need to run away to check off the items on his bucket list; as a detective, he’s already doing what he always wanted to do, and he maintains his integrity as a lawful good person even as the rule of law gives way to disorder. Meanwhile, although (as anyone would) he longs for a different outcome, Palace is steadfast in his clarity that the asteroid is coming, and that nothing — no conspiracy or prayer — can possibly save him, or anything else.

Ah, me, and my fondness for magical thinking! Foolishly, I keep trying to imagine a way out of this political situation for all of us. But imagination alone will do nothing; and like Hank Palace, I have much work to do.

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