APOCALYPSE FOR BEGINNERS – Nicholas Dickner

Apocalypse for Beginners grabbed me from the title alone. It promised irony, wit and humour, and the book did not disappoint. For generations, the Randall family has been gifted (cursed?) with the ability to prophesy the exact date of the end of the world, and each has gone insane when their predictions are proven false. The book focuses on Hope Randall, whose childhood with a pill popping, non-perishable food hoarding mother perennially on the run from an impending apocalypse has turned her into a logical, scientifically-minded girl who doesn’t put much stock in Randall visions of the apocalypse. Hope hasn’t received her own vision, and believes that if there were to be an apocalypse, the best way to determine its date would be through chance, through the mathematics of probability rather than a nightmare.

Mickey Bauermann, the book’s narrator, falls in love with Hope and his friendship provides a bit of normalcy in Hope’s life. Their relationship is sweet, more friendship than passion and romance, and together, they watch major world events of the 1990s unfold on TV. Hope is very interested in science and politics, and while none of the Randalls’ apocalyptic predictions have come true so far, the book touches on 20th century events that are somewhat apocalyptic in that they each ended a kind of era in world history – Hiroshima and the atomic bomb, the end of the cold war, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and David Suzuki and contemporary concern for the environment.

The story really takes off when Hope explains to Mickey that one needs mathematical elegance to determine the date of the apocalypse. Using a pair of dice, she comes up with the date July 17, 2001. Her prediction takes on a more ominous tone for her, however, when she realizes that all the packages of the ramen noodles her mother has in the house have July 17, 2001 as their expiration date. In fact, all packages of that brand of ramen noodles she finds in the grocery store also have the same expiration date. Worse, she unearths an old comic book with an ad by a psychic also predicting July 17, 2001 as the date for the apocalypse. The signs all seem to point to her mathematical prediction succeeding where previous generations of Randalls have failed, and Hope finds herself falling into the family pattern.

Her adventures in investigating her own prediction for the apocalypse make for a fun, light hearted read, and Mickey’s unflagging affection and concern for her inject the perfect amount of tenderness into the story. As a reader, I was eager to find out how Nicolas Dickner would deal with the approaching date of the apocalypse, and I cared enough about the characters to want them to have a happy ending together. The ending was a bit disappointing for me – I felt that after so much build up, the story just petered off – but overall, I found Apocalypse for Beginners to be a fun, enjoyable read.

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