The Last One by Alexandra Oliva

Man, I enjoyed the hell out of this book.

I don’t normally pay attention to those Facebook ads specially curated to appeal to your tastes based on your habits (and sometimes they’re so dead on I want to abandon social media and live in the woods in a shack). But of course this one was a book. The Last One by Alexandra Oliva, it was marketed as “Survivor meets The Walking Dead.” While that tagline is a lowest common denominator type generalization (spoiler alert: there are no zombies), it arrived at a time when I was just about to select a new audiobook. When I opened up my Audible homepage, the banner across the top was also advertising the book, which signaled to me that the Fates wanted me to read this book.

 And so it was ordained.   (image from Goodreads)

The premise is clever: A group of people participate in a wilderness survival reality show competition, which just so happens to coincide with the arrival of a deadly pandemic. The book alternates between a satirical, yet uncomfortably accurate, account of the show In the Dark, both on and off camera moments, and the solo journey of a character known as Zoo.

Just by knowing the basic premise of the book, the reader knows more than Zoo. But parsing out the layers of actual and assumed realities is still a challenge. Though the ultimate revelation is slathered on a bit thickly at the end, and the character’s toughness is undermined by her increasingly grating inner monologue, it’s a fascinating journey.

Yes, this book requires some suspensions of disbelief: coincidences are a little too neat at times, but consider how easily suspend our disbelief when it comes to that most unbelievable of entertainment: Reality Shows.

Reality shows get a well-deserved bum rap here, from cynical casting that stereotypes the participants with easily digested labels, to the manipulation of camera angles and editing which completely misrepresents each and every fraught glance and terse word.

But camera tricks and jump cuts are nothing compared to the mental acrobatics Zoo performs to convince herself she’s still living the constructed world the producers created for her. She knows the world around her is a stage, yet at the same time it is her reality, and the two worlds exist concurrently in an impressive feat of cognitive dissonance.

To believe and not to believe at the same time. That is the human condition. Comforting fictions with villains and heroes; an added dimension of thrill that comes with the belief that perhaps we can have for ourselves a little taste of that drama and excitement.

*Additional survival tips

  • People seems to mouth words a lot in this book. Does that happen in real life? Whenever I try to recall a time when someone mouthed words to me, all I remember is that I couldn’t understand them.
  • I listened to this book on Audible, with different narrators for the alternating perspectives. It was an enjoyable contrast and well-cast, although the narrator for Zoo’s shaky inner monologue gets a bit too shaky towards the end of it with her vibrato of grief.

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