Even though I knew full well that a sequel to The Reapers Are the Angels was bound and determined to disappoint a mite, I freaked out anyway and ordered a copy from England. America, why you no publish Exit Kingdom? I fairly loved Reapers, with its blurry genre lines and metaphysical America, a long toothpick poling the detritus in our bloody civic teeth. I can see why some readers wouldn’t cotton to it: the heavy allusiveness and almost overt symbolism, the dialect, the stripped punctuation, the zombies. But I loved Temple. I loved her fierce orphan pragmatism, a child of the apocalypse more easy with wastelands and the dead than nail-bitten civilization and the living. She was all squinting prairie hardness and kudzu tenacity.
Exit Kingdomis less sequel and more companion novel, a recounting by Moses Todd five years after the events in Reapers of five years before the same. Moses Todd may have been an anchor to the events of Reapers, but he was not the center, and his centrality here is uneasy and reactive. There’s another girl, the Vestal Amata, whose central mystery did not resonate with me, whose femininity and changeability seemed the kind of thing a man would understand about a woman’s nature, but no woman would ever feel inside herself, about herself. That’s fine, on some level: this is a man’s story of a woman, and not her own. People are told in many ways.
Moses and Abraham Todd are moving aimlessly through the American wasteland. Abraham isn’t right, a predatory monster, and Moses with his unspoken code plays brother’s keeper. They are given charge of a woman, the Vestal Amata, who has a strange thrall on the unquiet dead. The dead are blind to her and her movements. Though there is no section like the hillfolk sequence in Reapers that I actively disliked, the conflicts and personalities here felt more forced throughout, more schematic. The landscape, and especially the dead themselves, that I found even more strong than in the previous novel: Moses’s hands on the bellies of airplanes in a rusting hangar; the eyes of a dead man slowly blinking under ice; the dry bones trying to stand in the desert aridity.
So, if you enjoyed The Reapers Are the Angels, you will likely enjoy this, but in a worn way, in a way that tries to recapture a dream slipped out like a fish. Now that I write that, I remember with a painful clarity the nightmares I had from this book last night – a nightmare far out of scale from the near placid and resigned tone of this book. There were children – a school room – and so much blood from biting as the infection spread from child to child. Today’s events in Connecticut – I cannot stop crying. I dream nightmares that come true. Oh, America, I fear and grieve for you so much. Moses Todd does too, and that part we can agree on.