The Survivalists: A Novel
February 25, 2023 10:06 AM - Subscribe

"In the wake of her parents’ death, Aretha, a habitually single Black lawyer, has had only one obsession in life—success—until she falls for Aaron, a coffee entrepreneur. Moving into his Brooklyn brownstone to live along with his Hurricane Sandy-traumatized, illegal-gun-stockpiling, optimized-soy-protein-eating, bunker-building roommates, Aretha finds that her dreams of making partner are slipping away, replaced by an underground world, one of selling guns and training for a doomsday that’s maybe just around the corner" (Penguin Random House).

I am an innocent bystander
And somehow I got stuck
Between a rock and a hard place
Now I'm down on my luck.
--"Lawyers, Guns, and Money," Warren Zevon

* Goodreads
* Kirkus: "An ambitious Black lawyer gets sucked into the extralegal schemes of Brooklyn preppers in this first novel by a former writer for The Daily Show With Trevor Noah."
* Oprah: "Because these problems are personal to a character we ache for, we ache, too, for the world’s problems that cause her such despair: the climate crisis that inflicted PTSD on Aaron in the form of a flooded apartment, the misogyny and racism that force Aretha out of both the dating pool and her legal firm, and the fear of potential personal, political, and environmental apocalypses that are turning Americans into survivalists, one and all."
posted by MonkeyToes (2 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Paging Jordan Peele: This book needs you to adapt it! I liked this debut novel from Kashana Cauley. Her experience as an antitrust lawyer shines through in Aretha's sharp observations about her employer. But her television experiences are clear too: I felt like some of the more minor characters are sketched out, and the change in POV, from Aretha to others, was a little jarring, and better suited to something visual.

What I liked best was the way that the book is so firmly grounded in Aretha's slide into survivalism: it has an internal logic to it (her childhood, her precarious job, her track record with bad dates, the tight housing market), but it's madness. She pushes away the person who might help her see that, and redirects her professional killer instincts toward rationalizing her new way of life. Moving in with a man? BUT HE OWNS A HOUSE. Tolerating survivalists as housemates? BUT THEY'VE BEEN ROBBED. Going along on a gun-selling run? FUCK IT, I WANT TO FEEL ALIVE. She's sympathetic partly because everything's so scary--and because, as one character cynically thinks, "[t]he winning future plan was to give up all the existential weight attached to having a soul." Obeying the rules hasn't worked out for Aretha; she might just be safer on the other side of the law. I guess it reminded me of the conversation about villains with a point, and the difficulties of structural change and decay (lampshaded here, jankily; I did not like the sudden shift in POV).

I will say that it is not at all a typical thriller, and that my guess about where it was going was pleasantly wrong. "[P]eople don't talk about Black survivalists, although there are plenty," says Cauley. 'I mean, you can Google them and watch their YouTube videos and observe their tips. And I thought it would be fun to tackle survivalism from a pretty unexplored perspective in fiction." Aretha is a born shark, and it's interesting to watch her survive.

Solid debut effort from Cauley, and, done right, it's going to make a good few episodes of television. Pay the Zevon estate: "Lawyers, Guns, and Money" has to be on the soundtrack somewhere. And give Aretha her proper R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:29 AM on February 25

I wanted to like this, but I ended up skimming a large chunk of it -- I was curious about where it was going but didn't want to linger. I thought it was repetitive, and overly dramatic about guns guns guns guns guns.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:20 PM on May 8

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