Debut novel to be featured in ’08 ‘Tale for Three Counties’
Oct. 23, 2007
By Ben Beagle
BATAVIA – A debut novel that has been described as absorbing, extraordinary and striking, among many other remarkable adjectives is the choice for the 2008 “Tale for Three Counties” community reading project.
Thomas Mullen’s The Last Town on Earth is inspired by a little-known historical footnote regarding towns that quarantined themselves during the 1918 flu epidemic.
“It’s historical fiction, but readers will find many issues to discuss that are relevant today,” Leslie DeLooze, the librarian at Richmond Memorial Library who started the Tale project in 2003, said after the selection was revealed.
DeLooze and 2004 Tale author Howard Frank Mosher announced the program’s next title Monday morning during a now-annual celebration of the Tale program that was attended by about 50 people. After Mosher shared stories about his career as a writer and his most recent book, On Kingdom Mountain, he helped DeLooze remove a sheet of blue poster board from an easel to unveil the 2008 Tale poster, which features the cover of Mullen’s book.
Mullen is scheduled to visit Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties for a series of programs March 13 to 15, 2008. Area libraries will be scheduling a series of book discussions in early 2008 leading up to the visits.
Beginning today, paperback and hardcover copies of The Last Town on Earth are available for purchase at Richmond Memorial Library, 19 Ross St.; Lee-Whedon Memorial Library, 620 West Ave., Medina; and Perry Public Library, 70 North Main St., Perry.
Mullen’s novel explores such topics as citizenship and patriotism during wartime, morality, fear and the struggle between the individual and society.
The Last Town on Earth takes place in 1918 as America is fighting a war on foreign soil that has divided the nation. Also on the home front: Rumors of the deadliest epidemic ever are causing panic.
The uninfected mill town of Commonwealth, Wash., votes to quarantine itself, posting guards at the single road into town to prevent people from entering or leaving town. One day, a starving, cold – and seemingly ill – soldier comes out of the woods begging for sanctuary, which forces the town’s two guards to face an agonizing moral dilemma.
Mullen, in an e-mail to The Daily News, said he first got the idea for his story a decade ago after reading a story about the 1918 epidemic that mentioned how some uninfected towns reacted by blocking roads and posting armed guards. He soon imagined a situation such as the one presented in his book’s opening chapter in which guards must decide what to do with a stranger begging for food and shelter.
“In this memoir-happy, blog-happy age, one of the things I enjoy most about both reading and writing fiction is the opportunity it gives us each to see the world through other people’s eyes,” Mullen wrote.
Further research, led Mullen to discover the era was “a time of surprising political repression and tense emotions about whether we should be at war, as well as violent labor activity, both of which became key parts of the story.”
“There are characters in this book who disagree with each other quite vehemently on life-or-death political and personal issues, and through fiction I could debate the merits and try to understand the nuances of these conflicting viewpoints,” Mullen wrote. “Hopefully, readers too can explore their own views and see, more clearly than before, sides of the argument that they might not have before.”
Last Town on Earth, published in August 2006, was named a best debut novel of 2006 by USA Today, which said “Mullen’s absorbing first novel draws you in immediately, just like the deep, rich forests of Washington state.”
The novel also was named a best book of the year by the Chicago Tribune, and one of the year’s top 10 debuts by Amazon.com. It won the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Excellence in Historical Fiction.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution called Last Town on Earth “a striking debut” and The New York Times said in a remarkable first novel “Mullen’s suspenseful storytelling pulls us forward. Time and again, his imagery – from the ‘logs bobbing on the water’s surface like corpses’ to the whole town, seen ‘in full eclipse’ – is devastatingly right.”
Mullen, who lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife and son, has done book tours and readings at festivals. Tale is his first time as part of a community reading project.
“I’m very honored to have my book chosen,” he wrote, “and I’m looking forward to hearing what people respond to in the book, what they take away from it and what they bring into it.”
On the Net:
Thomas Mullen Web site: www.thomasmullen.net.
Back to 2007 Articles
Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation