by Walter John Williams
Nathan Blumenfeld's Rating: 3.5 out of 4
An earthquake, measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale, occurs along the New Madrid fault and destroys America's heartland. Chaos ensues as no one is prepared for this incident - after all, everyone knows that earthquakes only happen in California and Japan. As the Mississippi and surrounding waters flood and cities are destroyed, this novel follows the lives of several individuals, among them the President, trying to deal with the crisis, a technician working to prevent a nuclear meltdown at his power station, and a black man and a white boy, thrown together by circumstance, who find themselves drifting down the bloated river in an eerie perversion of a similar voyage by one Huckleberry Finn.
The Rift was an excellent and huge novel. Often compared in reviews to Stephen King's The Stand and Robert McCammon's Swan Song, there is one vital difference between those post-apocalyptic thrillers and this: The Rift is terrifyingly real. Not only has Williams done an outstanding amount of research on the nature of earthquakes and the geology of the United States, but he also shows a keen eye for the politics and people of the region about which he is writing. And perhaps even more terrifying than the vivid and striking descriptions of the quakes is the fact that there is precedent - an earthquake did indeed strike the New Madrid fault in 1811, and could very well do so again.
Aside from the technical excellence of this tale, the author gives us a large cast of believable and interesting characters: religious fanatics convinced that the quakes signify the Apocalypse, Klansmen who use the opportunity to exact some racial revenge, families torn apart and new friends made, people who keep their cool under pressure, and people who lose it. And, keeping things realistic, the author doesn't hesitate to kill off characters, so the reader can never be quite sure of the outcome.
Amongst all the relief efforts, rebuilding efforts, the chaos and everything, the author also confronts issues and situations that may not be immediately thought of by everyone: "The President stared, a new realization rolling through his mind. He had completely forgot that all this was going to have to be paid for." Overall, The Rift is one of the best novels I've read in a long time: realistic, thought-provoking, at times terrifying and at other times heartrending, the author has managed to produce a large, exciting book.
As interesting as all the situations, all the characters, all the politics and geography are, the reason I gave this novel 3.5 stars rather than four is that it does stretch credibility, especially in that almost all of the main characters run across each other and interact with each other throughout the course of the book. Also, the ending is only quasi-happy, and I'm a sucker for a happy ending.
People you've come to know and like dying horrible and vividly portrayed deaths, often stupid or reasonless ones. Gunshots, drownings, smashings, burnings...it's all there and it's all horrible.