Tuesday, April 10, 2018


A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is reprinted here with permission.

Allowed to continue unchecked, climate change and growing lack of compassion could most certainly play out as they do in Eric Barnes's prescient third novel, The City Where We Once Lived. Barnes has constructed an intricate apocalyptic world that frighteningly mirrors present-day reality.

Ravaged by weather and industrial decline, North End is down to 2,000 stalwart residents who did not relocate to thriving South End. North End is viewed as a lawless land of isolationists and scavengers stripping it to its core; its people cultivate that façade to discourage trouble-seeking South Enders from traversing the remaining overpass into their peaceful domain.

Barnes provides a haunting portrait of the future through the eyes of a narrator who spends his days memorializing North End for the eight-page newspaper. Living in a deserted hotel, the narrator describes his daily excursions and increasing interactions with new people in the area. Some evoke hope, while others threaten the order--evidence South End may not be as stable as it appears.

When tragedy strikes, the haves are forced to rely on the have-nots, further bridging North and South Ends in a way neither populace desires. Through stark yet intimate prose, Barnes explores themes of separatism and displacement and how the lenses we look through are often distorted by lack of connection and empathy. He offers a cautionary tale about a world that feels a hair's-breadth away.

STREET SENSE:  An intimate glimpse into a near-future "quiet Armageddon," where neighboring cities are threatened by changing climate, exposure to toxic chemicals and the decline of purpose and value. I loved the underlying messages in this book so much. I requested the assignment because of the cover and was blown away by the innards.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE (OR TWO):  The people of the South End aren't aware that their own community is dying, too, that their existence is colorless and indistinct, filled with tasks like navigating traffic and making money to pay for bigger plastic homes farther from the crowded neighborhoods they already want to leave behind as they keep pushing to build new places even farther to the south, always shutting down their own failed neighborhoods and driving good people away.

Even now we are subject to the failings of the South End. First their combined decision to give up on this place where we still choose to live. Then their collective effort to forget us. And now the weakness of the community they've built as a replacement to the North End leaves these kids with no purpose and no value, pushing them across the overpass not to explore but to cause trouble. To finally wreak havoc on anyone they find.

COVER NERD SAYS:  I wanted to know about the titular city as soon as I got a look at this cover. That's good cover work. The change in tones and font color only added to the attraction. You just know there is something haunting inside.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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