Human beings can be destroyed by many things. Hence, it stands to reason that all of society and conventional life can be destroyed just as easily as it creators. In Total Oblivion, More or Less, author Alan Deniro has invented a fantastical collapse of society following wildly imaginative events which seem less important then the collapse of the main characters.
The narrator is Macy Palmer, a Minnesota teenager who is telling the story of her family as they are forced to abandon their home and leave their lives behind. The story starts out with the family in a refugee camp Ė warriors from the past have invaded and now war and plague are sweeping across the land. This effect has turned scientific laws upside-down, and all concepts of normality cease to exist Ė except for how normal it all is.
This is the setup for the novel. As the story goes on, the family will flee the camp looking for a better life and will face many trials and tribulations. While they encounter the surreal and the strange, one canít help but feel itís all a disguise for what would otherwise be a boring family drama, since the novel circulates around the conflict among the members of the Palmer family. That conflict has been heightened by the dangerous new world they are living in, but if the novel took place in a normal setting, the reader gets the sense there would be whole pages describing arguments over who gets to watch what television program. The plot of the novel takes a backseat to this family drama for the first half of the book, and this creates boredom for readers.
Aside from too much character drama, there is also confusion which continues to make the novel uninteresting. The main character has several flashback scenes in the early parts of the novel; flashbacks to her parents and siblings lives add to the confusion. One canít help but wonder if this is an attempt to add more dimension to the characters, or if itís just because Deniro got tired of thinking up new crazy things to go on in the present. As the family continues on their journey, random characters are introduced and killed off quickly, adding to the disorder of the novel.
When readers are finally able to reach the middle of the story, they will be pleasantly surprised as the plot (finally) begins to pick up and the reader begins to see where Deniro is going with all this. Macy loses some members of her family and is forced to start a new life in an area where society is marginally more intact and where she will be better off. It turns out that she will have to save not only her estranged family members but also several other lives. Thankfully the story becomes more coherent, and as it does it becomes more interesting.
Fans of post-apocalyptic style stories may very well enjoy Total Oblivion, More or Less. At its heart, it does the same thing many other books of the same style do: there are still shreds of normality and civilized society to be found, even in the bizarre new world that has been created. As with many books of this vein, the overall message is hopeful, showing that even in the worst of circumstances life will go on and society will continue in some form. A liberal interpretation could even suggest the whole series of surreal events and the entire scope of the novel may be a metaphor for the out-of-control feeling of life in general. But the story just doesnít move along well enough, and readers will weary of the novel whether they interpret it this way or not.
Total Oblivion, More or Less is a work of a creative writer. Unfortunately, Deniro is creative enough that the story actually suffers for it. The strange and surreal events in the beginning, while wildly imaginative, donít make up for the average writing and astoundingly slow start to the novel. If readers can keep from turning away at first, they may find a story they enjoy. Unfortunately many readers will never get that far.