Saturday, August 06, 2011

Book Review - The Unit by Terry DeHart

The Unit
Terry DeHart
Apocalyptic Fiction / Science Fiction
Trade Paperback
307 pages
Publisher: Orbit – Hachette Book Group
Publication Date: July 14, 2010
ISBN-13: 978-0316077408

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Told through the eyes of five main characters in short, alternating but impactful chapters Terry DeHart’s debut novel, The Unit, is post-apocalyptic fiction at its finest. Where Cormac McCarthy’s The Road centers around two dark, lonely, and desperate characters trudging through the scarred and desolate countryside searching for a home DeHart’s narrative concentrates on the perspectives of a family of four caught in the after-effects of a recent nuclear holocaust. Every chapter is written in a distinctive, sometimes complimentary but often conflicting, voice and is told from the point of view of each member of the Sharpe family (Jerry, Susan, Melanie, and Scott.) DeHart occasionally interrupts the family’s journey by inserting chapters narrated by a gang of barbaric juvenile delinquents who have forgotten what it means to be civilized. When the two groups accidentally meet we see just how savage, loving, brutal, caring, indifferent, and angry humans can be towards each other.

The Unit is much more than a post-apocalyptic romp through the barren hills of charred central California, however. What makes this book special are the profound and complicated yet controversial themes explored through the experiences of each of the five central characters. The conflict of trust during war is common and each character gets caught up at least once with the issue of who is trustworthy and who should be shot on sight. While The Unit certainly covers the subject of survival in difficult times it also manages to explore the deeper realms of faith, morality, family, loyalty, and the psychological impact of survival after a catastrophic breakdown of civilization. The concept of instinctual human survival and the idea of maintaining civilized behavior in the face of horrendous brutality and cruelty is thrown into the face of the audience and we are forced to examine our own principles. What might we do in the same situation? How far would we go to protect our families? Would we throw decency out the window in favor of survival?

Not only does DeHart tell a good story but he also manages to speak with profound wisdom regarding the specific flaws and strengths of our society. Do we retain our sense of morality during societal collapse? Or do we become brute savages? Or, are we something entirely between the two? Are we, under pressure, who we hope we are inside? Good or bad he explores the deepest of human emotions and chronicles the reactions and feelings of very different individuals in one of the most stressful environments ever imagined. And he gets it totally right! Conflicts of trust, thoughts of spirituality and death, human cruelty and violence, love of family, abject hunger, protective instincts, absence of amenities, wariness of strangers, pain and suffering, and post-traumatic stress all fall into this vision of life after the collapse of civilization.

Terry DeHart demonstrates the rare ability to keep the action flowing without it interfering with the plot and he’s not afraid to explore the dark side of survival and the atrocities of conflict and disaster following the breakdown of law and order. In fact, he does an admirable job of describing the heart-rending and complicated range of emotions that might be felt in horrible, even macabre, situations by letting us see them through the diverse perspectives of a handful of characters. There are many disturbing scenes here, and I won’t give away too much for fear of spoiling the story, but the sad reality is that during a society-wide catastrophe some people will revert to barbarism, others will struggle against all odds to survive, and some will surrender to the eventuality of despair. That DeHart gives us concise and emotion-filled depictions of all three is a credit to his skill.

Recommended for fans of post-apocalyptic nuclear war, dystopia, guerilla warfare, fast-paced action, and survival. Read The Unit if you liked The Road; Oryx and Crake; Alas, Babylon ; Burn Down the Sky; Soft Apocalypse; Falling Skies; The Walking Dead; Desolation Road; or Feed .

4 ½ out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

The Unit Series by Terry DeHart
1. The Unit (2010)
2. The Sharpe’s Story (TBD)

Additional Reading:

Official Author Website

Author Website

Grasping for the Wind Review

The Unit – Chapter One

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3 comments:

The Alternative One said...

Dear Alternative One,

I’m writing to let you know how much I appreciate your review of my book, The Unit. To read such an insightful, intelligent and understanding review written in such a way as to cast doubt upon the mortal constitution of its writer is a fine thing indeed.

Seriously, you have renewed my faith in those who dare to perform online reviews.

Thank you.

Best,

Terry DeHart

The Alternative One said...

Terry,
Thank you for your kind comments. Honestly, writing book reviews is a passion and finding well-written stories with moral implications is a rare treat. Heck, finding well-written stories is hard enough. That you took the time to write to me, an anonymous reviewer, simply confirms my feelings about your work and, in my mind, doubly validates the content of the review. Obviously, you care about your work and that shows in your story. Contacting me to thank me for my review simply proves it.
On a personal note, would you mind if I added your e-mail missive to the comments of the review?

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

The Alternative One said...

I greatly appreciate the time and effort you take with your reviews. (I’ve been reading others.) So many reviewers these days have axes to grind or agendas to keep, but your reviews focus upon the work at hand and show a keen understanding of what authors are attempting to accomplish.

By all means use these emails as you see fit. Best success and happy reading!

Best,

Terry