Plague Journal

Plague Journal

Plague Journal by Michael O’Brien is the second book in the Children of the Last Days series, but I’m reading out of order so I started with this one and will read the first novel, Strangers and Sojourners next.

I’ve heard O’Brien’s work described as a sort of Left Behind for Catholics. I wouldn’t know exactly because I’ve never read LB. But O’Brien is concerned with a sort of fictionalized end times. More than that really, he’s concerned with Apocalypse, revelation of God’s plan in human history. And his perspective is very Catholic.

Plague Journal is the story of Nathaniel Delaney, a journalist, editor and owner of a paper called The Echo. He’s a self-appointed prophet crying out in the wilderness, warning of the collapse of civilization, the downfall of democracy and the tyranny of the social service state. He’s also a divorced father of three whose wife has disappeared with their youngest son. And a lapsed Catholic. As the novel opens, Delaney is falling apart, a crisis of faith after the departure of his wife and the destruction of his newspaper. Soon he is on the run from a government turned tyrannical.

As I was reading I kept thinking of Walker Percy’s The Second Coming or maybe Love in the Ruins (I always mix those two books up because I read them at about the same time) and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. The narrator has a feel of a Percy character, in fact all the characters do. And the sensibility is so often Percy, but Percy set in the frozen north of Canada.

I suppose I was thinking of Atwood because of the narrative structure, a journal left behind by a person who has been disappeared by the government and pieced together by a later redactor. That and the bleak Canadian setting. I know The Handmaid’s Tale is supposed to be set mainly in the Cambridge, Ma area and only briefly flirts with the Canadian border, but I only learned that much later. It still feels Canadian to me because that’s how I read it the first time.

There are also a very strong self-conscious echoes of Tolkien in the narrator’s journey as he flees his home with his children, secret police in hot pursuit, just as Frodo and his companions flee Bag End with the forces of Mordor nipping at their heels.

I was a little disconcerted at times to find not just echoes but excepts of much of O’Brien’s non-fiction writing embedded in the book. Pieces of Landscape with Dragons also bits from many of his essays that i’d read on his website, especially from “Father at Night”, one of my favorite of his pieces. But the patchwork is self-conscious and the pieces form a part of clippings patched into the stream of consciousness of the journal form. It works because of who the narrator is, a writer constantly composing in his head.

The dust jacket quote from Peter Kreeft sums up my reading experience quite nicely:

Why couldn’t I put this book down? Its plot is simple, its narrator hectors, and I don’t want to believe its prophetic warning. But its characters are unforgettable; its author makes simple goodness winsome, even heroic; and its social indictment is as important as that of Brave New World.

I’d add that I found its nightmare Canadian government all too plausible. It isn’t a stretch at all, in fact its mostly here already, according to what I read in the news. If I were to teach my dream class on dystopian and apocalyptic fiction, this would definitely have to go on the list.

My comments on other books in the series:

Strangers and Sojourners

A Cry of Stone

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  • Ha!

    Several times now I have been waiting, waiting, waiting for the beep…and then suddenly jerk awake when the thermometer falls out of my mouth…

  • I have a computer that records the temps for me directly, and unless I’m completely still, it takes soooo long (to a grumpy person awakened suddenly in order to jab herself under the tongue.  Unfortunately, my poor husband, who responds to the computer’s beep and hands me the thermometer portion, typically catches the brunt of my grumpy sleepiness as I demand why he didn’t press the right button, or whatever, since I feel like I’ve been holding the thing under my tongue for like 5 minutes (seconds)!

    I don’t think I started taking temps when Chiclette was as young as Sophie.  I’ve been taking them for FAR TOO LONG already with no patters to show for it yet.  raspberry This is the stage that really frustrates me—when nothing is happening, but theoretically, it could!!  I’ve been taking temps since March.  My baby is 7 1/2 months or so. . .

  • Yeah I started charting pretty early partly because Sophie was sleeping such long nights. According to the literature going more than 4-6 hours between feedings is not ecological breastfeeding and won’t necessarily postpone fertility returning. And also because of our track record. I got pregnant when Bella was about 7 months old. I think it was on the very first fertile cycle. And Bella was a honeymoon baby and Sophie was conceived about four months after my miscarriage, but on the first cycle after the cancer-scare d&c. You do the math. I need time to recover from my c-section.

    But yeah I agree the long haul with no patterns is super frustrating.


  • Right.  Never did do “ecological” myself.  Only “on-demand.”  In my experience, you can offer the baby the breast, but you can’t make her nurse!!  But if you dig a little deeper, even exclusive “on-demand” breastfeeding does postpone pretty reliably for at least 6 months.  That’s where the literature is conservative to avoid seeming inaccurate.  After all, conventional wisdom says that breastfeeding isn’t reliable *at all.*

    I totally understand ultra-fertility.  Absolutely.  And yeah, I’ll be a little more conservative this time around myself, though it wasn’t on my FIRST cycle (when Doodle was about 9 months), but rather, my 3rd or so. . .  My body needs a little more time, too—then maybe I won’t be so exhausted next time!!  wink

  • I just hate taking my temperature and charting… It makes me feel like I have to have NFP on my mind 24/7/365. So, since I got pregnant with my little girl 3 1/2 months after our (on-demand breastfed) son was born, now we’re still not charting but being “conservative” wink I’ve had 2 c-sections within a year, so I know what you all mean when you say “I need to recover” or “My body needs a little more time”… I’d say my body needs a lot less weight! Anybody knows how to drop 30lb overnight? wink

  • “Anybody knows how to drop 30lb overnight?”

    Nope. But if you find out, please let me know. smile

  • Have you looked into Billings?  The temperature, after all, won’t tell you until after the first ovulation, by the sustained rise…or, at least, by the initial dip, until it is just upon you,  when it is too late to start abstaining, which you would have had to have done several days previous to that.  Only the mucus sign will warn you of the first approach of fertility. 

    I kept both Billings and SymptoThermal charts together for several years.  The day of ovulation and first safe day afterwards were in accord month after month.  But the Billings chart tells you when ovulation is approaching,  which the temperature chart really does not. 

    What happens with breastfeeding,  when you get close to fertility, is that your body will begin to work up to ovulate but not quite make it, so there will be patches of fertile mucus, which of course require several days of abstinence, over and over again, which can be quite frustrating.  But at least the mucus sign does tell you what is going on with your body.  I don’t think the thermometer is of too much use until you re-establish regular cycles.

    Long past all that now, alas
    Susan Peterson

  • I learned sympto-thermal, charting both mucous and temp. And yeah the instructor emphasized that until cycles reestablish themselves mucous is the more certain sign. But it’s handy to have temperature confirmation.

  • Not to mention that the mucus sign is easy to miss.  It’s supposed to be ohhhhhh so easy & obvious & whatnot.  Yeah.  Whatever.  And the cervix, too.  Temps are at least objective!