the Little Red Reviewer

Breaking the World by Jerry Gordon

Posted on: April 15, 2018

Breaking the World, by Jerry Gordon

Release date:  April 19th 2018

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Apex*!!)

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In 1993 I was fourteen years old. I was excited about high school, excited about boys, was obsessed with the movie Jurassic Park,  I was finally old enough to listen to Nirvana and Aerosmith. We read The Odyssey in 9th grade, and I fell in love with mythology, epic stories, and oracles.  It was a good year to be fourteen. My parents watched the evening news religiously as I flitted in and out of the living room, disappointed that I couldn’t watch sitcoms or Star Trek because they were watching boring news.  I remember some guy’s photo being on TV a lot, aviator sunglasses, wavy brown hair. He just looked like some guy. I remember seeing footage of a flat landscape and a building that was on fire. I didn’t realize I should be paying attention.

 

The guy with the sunglasses was David Koresh, and the burning building was the Branch Davidian Church in Waco, Texas. What would become known as “Waco”, involved a 51 day standoff between the Branch Davidians and the FBI. Both sides were convinced they were right. Over 70 people were killed in the fire. And all I remember was some guy’s photo on TV.

 

Taking a cue from the alternate history author Tim Powers,  Jerry Gordon has to fit (nearly) everything that happens in Breaking the World  into the historical framework of what we think we know about the siege on the Branch Davidian Church, locked into the timeline of when and how the FBI surrounded and tear gassed the compound, to who escaped and how, to when the fire started, to how many people were inside the compound when it burned.  Coinciding with the 25th anniversary of “Waco”, Breaking the World was officially announced for pre-order on Feb 28th, and will be released on April 19th, lining up exactly with when the siege started and ended.

 

The novel is told from the point of view of Cyrus, a teenager who lives at the compound. Cyrus could care less about religion and god and the end of the world, he could freakin’ care less about David Koresh. But, since David is technically sorta Cyrus’s step dad, the two of them develop and civil relationship where they respect one another, to the point where David asks Cyrus’s advice on a number of occasions. David is softspoken, not always confident, uninterested in attention, and he cares deeply for the people who have come to his church. He believes the seals are beginning to break, and that he needs to keep his people safe.

 

Cyrus and his best friends, Marshal and Rachel, dream of running away together. Marshal grew up at the compound,  but Rachel is a recent arrival. Yeah, there’s plenty of novels in which a handful of fifteen year olds run away, but this isn’t that story. These kids have no money, no way to get to a train or bus station, they don’t know how to drive, they barely have access to a telephone. And remember when this takes place – cell phones weren’t a thing, plenty of adults did not have credit cards that their adventurous children could steal, and payphones were only helpful if you could actually get to one. Leaving Waco is going to have a stay a dream for Cyrus and his friends for a little while longer, because the siege begins in the first chapter of the book.   The three best friends are old enough to understand they may not live through this, and too young to be able to do much about it.

The novel is designed around historical events (until the story takes a sharp turn!), so the time frame requires the story be told at a breakneck speed.  The tension is brilliant and necessary, making the novel one helluva ride, but I would have like a little bit of time to get to know Marshal and Rachel a little more, so as to be more invested in their lives.   What I most enjoyed about this novel is how Gordon continually builds up the tension, how he presents David Koresh as a sympathetic character who just wants to save his flock of true believers, and seeing the siege of Waco from the inside.  Breaking the World starts out as a literal insider’s view of the siege, and then it goes in some unexpected directions. This was not a novel I ever expected would exist.

 

Here’s the thing though –  What if Koresh, with his end of the world prophecies, was right?   Gordon plays fast and loose with something else that happened at the same time as Waco, weaving that event into the events of Breaking the World, and this is where the novel diverges from known history and everything goes sideways in a thought provoking end of the world scenario. I won’t talk  about this too much, because a) it is a huge spoiler, and b) it’s where the meat of the story takes place and you really need to experience it for yourselves. These are moments when Cyrus realizes what he needs to do, and what he’s already done. I wish I was writing this review a year after the book came out, so that I could talk about these scenes in more detail, and the why behind why certain people need to do certain things,  because damn. The scene with the young man in the living, who is holding the baby? I am still destroyed by that scene. And like, that is the teeniest thing that happens.

 

It’s strange, reading a book that’s told from the inside of an event that had so few survivors. I know most of these people are going to be dead at the end of this book, it’s just a matter of how they die, and when.  There’s a much bigger conversation to be unpacked here, about knowing a character is going to die, about religious beliefs on taking on the sins of murder and how to convince someone to take on that sin, about knowing what you need to do even when you don’t realize what you’re doing or exactly why, about what happens to the people who do manage to survive the end of the world. Reddit, don’t let me down, I’m expecting a lot of Breaking the World discussion threads from you!

 

Something else I was thinking about while reading Breaking the World, is how alluring prophets and prophecies can be.  They sure are fun in epic fantasy novels and when you’re in 9th grade studying Greek and Roman mythology. In real life, I guess not so much. I suddenly wonder how the townspeople in ancient Greece and Rome felt about prophecies showing up every few years?

 

*Full disclosure –  I am a non-fiction contributor to Apex Magazine.  More full disclosure – when Jerry told me about this book, I completely lost my shit.

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4 Responses to "Breaking the World by Jerry Gordon"

I can’t imagine why you would decide to read this.

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Because I couldn’t imagine why an author would write an insider’s experience of this event, and I was curious.

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This sounds fascinating and challenging and … just … woah. I can’t decide whether I want to read it or not. As always, you’ve made me think differently about something …
Thank you. 🙂

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“fascinating and challenging and … just … woah” were my thoughts exactly when I first heard about this book!

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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