The Last One by Alexandra Oliva (2016)
Fiction | Psychological Thriller
“She wanted an adventure. She never imagined it would go this far.
It begins with a reality TV show. Twelve contestants are sent into the woods to face challenges that will test the limits of their endurance. While they are out there, something terrible happens—but how widespread is the destruction, and has it occurred naturally or is it man-made? Cut off from society, the contestants know nothing of it. When one of them—a young woman the show’s producers call Zoo—stumbles across the devastation, she can imagine only that it is part of the game.
Alone and disoriented, Zoo is heavy with doubt regarding the life—and husband—she left behind, but she refuses to quit. Staggering countless miles across unfamiliar territory, Zoo must summon all her survival skills—and learn new ones as she goes.
But as her emotional and physical reserves dwindle, she grasps that the real world might have been altered in terrifying ways—and her ability to parse the charade will be either her triumph or her undoing.
Sophisticated and provocative, The Last One is a novel that forces us to confront the role that media plays in our perception of what is real: how readily we cast our judgments, how easily we are manipulated.”
Expected Publication Date: July 12, 2016
pooled ink Review:
Thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy to review!
The book opens with a chilling prologue as it discusses death and the chaos to come in a voice of nonchalance as if such events are simply matter of fact and not a thing aligned with emotion. Neither sympathy nor remorse slips from the omniscient narrator as they prophesy the psychological terror of things to come. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up alert as my mind grasped the warning that this adventure was about to go awry.
Written as a filmmaker would describe their creation, every other chapter is narrated in omniscient third person so we not only receive insight into the character’s thoughts but we are also provided the camera angles, the flips between “real time” and a competitor’s confessional provided intermittently to add commentary to the show, and the editing choices made with the footage recorded. Reading this book is just like watching a reality show and because of the described camera shots and storyboard set-up of scenes it makes it clear and easy to envision.
I love all the insight into the editing process. I’ve worked in the film business here and there but have only edited videos with my Final Cut Pro X program for fun projects. The more you do it the more you learn how to manipulate your audience. Reality shows are particularly good at this and such truths are far from hidden in this book. Shots are chosen, characters are created, storylines are forged, perspectives are manipulated, information is controlled, and the producer smiles as the money rolls in and the viewers scream both exhilarated and addicted.
The other chapters, when not in third person, are written in first person from Zoo’s POV set over a week from the competition’s start. Eventually set loose on a solo challenge Zoo ventures forth and the story follows her but what awaits her in the woods was unforeseen by both her and the producers.
We also periodically receive a sample of what the viewers are posting in the comments. I love the psychological insight into the anonymous viewers who comment on the show via an online forum. It’s so accurate.
I dig how the characters don’t have names (well, except during the sections from Zoo’s POV). It’s fitting, though. They’re not people, they’re just competitors on a reality TV show. The producers don’t care who they are; the viewers don’t care who they are. No one knows and no one cares. Everyone just wants the entertainment they can create and the caricatures that they were cast to emulate. Despite being broadcast on a major network they remain anonymous.
I felt as if this book crawled by, but only because I was so desperate to reach its conclusion for the suspense was insane. Really the plot flowed quickly and efficiently as it transitioned between before the outbreak and after – a distinction that only we readers are aware of. For Zoo there is no “before” and “after.” There is only the competition and her determination to keep fighting. The chapters that cover the reality show are fun to read and welcomingly familiar to any of us that have watched such shows before. They’re full of drama, alliances, scripts, races, and editing tricks. Zoo’s chapters are full of strength, endurance, terror, and sheer blindness of more than one kind.
The brain is a terrifying and wondrous organ, and all it wants is to survive. – Zoo
As a reader we are forewarned of the world’s impending doom from page one and this advanced knowledge only increases the suspense further. As we watch the competitors complete daily challenges and interact with their teammates we allow ourselves to be lulled into the comfortable familiarity of reality TV but we keep one eye opened and sharp ever waiting for the moment it will all hit the fan. With Zoo we understand her surroundings and trials far more than she and yet we watch her with anxiety waiting for the moment that realization pries her stubborn eyes open. It’s like with any scary movie or psychological thriller – you know it’s been written or scripted to mess with your head and yet that knowledge does not stop it from succeeding, rather it makes your hands clench and your knee bounce in anticipation of it.
Admittedly my very early thought was: A psycho killer with some crazy end-of-the-world plot that will succeed and administered all under the guise of a survival reality TV competition show…Intense! Yeah, needless to say that was incredibly inaccurate and maybe I should read book descriptions more carefully. Doesn’t matter though because whether you have no idea what’s coming, you have an incorrect assumption as to what’s coming, or you read the description and paid attention, this book will ensnare you.
If you’re a fan of survival/competition reality TV then you’ll get along just fine with this book. If you’d rather skip the scripted junk and spare your time only on the real nitty gritty then you too are in luck. There’s plenty of post-apocalyptic survivalist info in this book. That’s something I really appreciated with this story, it didn’t hesitate to be real. It didn’t coddle the readers or make nonsense up just to add spectacle and drama. Did it mess with your head? Heck yeah and it totally messed with Zoo’s head. But the survival aspects were harsh, questionable, and blunt.
…I have to admit, if I weren’t here, if I weren’t a contestant, I’d watch this show. I’d soak in their vision of mangled familiarity, and I’d love it. -Zoo
When Zoo’s glasses break though…oh boy. That’s one of my fears because just like her I have horrible eyesight and if my glasses ever shattered…Ugh I don’t even want to think about it. For a moment she just sort of looks around at the trees assuming or hoping a hidden camera will see her and she keeps saying “I can’t see.” Can you imagine? Being alone in the woods, starving, and in danger of rabid animals in this psychopathic game of fate and not being able to see more than a smudge of colors?? It’s a personal nightmare of mine and it always makes me think back to that episode of The Twilight Zone when the world ends and this man finally gets a moment of peace and all he’s dreamed of is having as much time as he’d like to just sit and read…and then his glasses break. I hate that episode. The irony hits too close to home and my realm of personal fears.
Reading a book over an extended period of time can often lead to a book losing its momentum. However, binge-reading a book, as I did with this one, can lead to an overload of immersion, energy, and investment. Throw in the fact that night fell quickly as a storm blew in and I was locked in. I was committed and it was too late to turn back (okay maybe not technically but let me be dramatic for a moment, okay?). I began this book with interest and quickly became submerged in its duel timelines before I was unceremoniously kicked off a cliff before I could even turn to glare the assailant in the eye. Holy cannoli. Holy cannoli! I don’t even know what to say right now. Too many emotions are boiling inside of me. My brother will attest to that as he was laughing and teasing me as I squeaked, roared, and plunged onward reading the eARC from beneath a blanket that was swaddling my body ever tighter in an instinctive act of consoling my utter freak out and growing stress over the suspense.
I do really wish I knew who did this, what caused it, why it happened, etcetera. But I’ll never receive an answer to those questions and as desperate as I like to have answers I’m sort of okay with not knowing. Not knowing is far more realistic. If you’re searching for a story that ends with a tidy bow and a long explanatory soliloquy then prepare to be disappointed. You’re blessed with a brief summation of the competitors’ fates but beyond that you’re left to your own imagination. I also wish Brennan would just blurt out what he knows to Zoo rather than continually acquiesce to her request to shut up. Just tell her! Le sigh.
Okay, I’ve practically written an essay at this point but I’m seriously just so filled with emotion right now! Someone needs to snatch up the rights to this book and turn it into a movie ASAP. I’m not kidding. This would make an excellent movie. Although I would probably only watch it if I could bring a blanket to periodically hide under, and yet I know that when it’s all said and done I’d leave with a grin on my face.
The Last One is a nail-biting, eye-squinting, body-rocking psychological thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat from page one. With no care to waste on sparing feelings the story snaps you to attention and drags you along writhing with suspense. Grab a copy of this book, schedule a thunderstorm, and read like a bullet in the night. Utterly thrilling, intense, and scintillating this book is not one to underestimate.
Purchase here: The Last One
Meet Alexandra Oliva!
Alexandra Oliva — Ali, for short — grew up in a tiny town in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. Her last name is pronounced “all of a,” like the first three words of the phrase “all of a sudden.”
In 2001, Ali left the Adirondacks for Yale University where she made some of the best friends of her life, failed to learn Russian, and wrote a very long essay about Robin Hood, which earned her a B.A. in History.
To pull off this novel, Ali knew she needed to get her hands dirty. Soon she was using “writing research” as the impetus to sign up for an experience she would have been too scared to undertake otherwise: a fourteen-day field course with the Boulder Outdoor Survival School (B.O.S.S.) — which is known for providing some of the most authentic and challenging wilderness survival and primitive living experiences in the world.
Ali and her husband flew to Utah for the course, where they hiked out into the desert with expert guidance and minimal supplies. In the field, she pushed herself walking water source to water source without food for three days, learned how to start a fire using a bow drill, and glimpsed an elusive mountain lion minutes before being left to camp entirely on her own for two days. It was a difficult and amazing experience, and one that was extraordinarily helpful to writing The Last One.