• Steven Heller

The Daily Heller: Winter Beach Reading

If you're preparing to self-isolate during the coming Winter, perhaps on a windswept beach or somewhere tropical, as you await the next COVID wave—the one that POTUS says will either go away or we'll just get used to—allow me to suggest that you read one of my all-time favorite endgame books, if only to appreciate that things could be a lot worse. The president insists that the pandemic "is what it is," Nevil Shute's 1957 classic post-apocalyptic novel On the Beach is a sobering reminder that nuclear radiation is forever.


During last Thursday's presidential debate, I was reminded of this book when the president reminded us that since he writes and receives "beautiful letters" to his North Korean bro-mate, we have not had the nuclear war he further implied was promised in an exit chat he had with Barack Obama at the White House. In fact, as POTUS said, President Obama left him with a huge "mess." But have no fear, he's worked it all out with Kim Jong-un, and there will be no launching of the North's growing ICBM stockpile for as long as they are both in power.


On the Beach is not escapist reading in the strictest sense. There is no escaping the promised outcome. Yet it is a fascinating page-turner. As you may be able to discern from the provocative pulp illustration (below), the novel is about the last place on Earth, Australia, to feel the effects of fallout from World War III (presumably between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.).


An American atomic submarine, which was on patrol at sea when the hostilities commenced and the missiles landed, sails into Melbourne before returning to the U.S. on a recon mission to search for any survivors. Finding none alive, the sub returns. The dialog-driven narrative is from the perspective of the sub's crew members and the Australian population who have been informed the fallout cloud will inevitably hit their continent sickening and killing them all. The drama covers the relationships of the protagonists while awaiting doomsday. Rather than promise vaccines, the government issues poison tablets to ease the tide of suffering.


I'll grant you this is not an uplifting, happy scenario at all. But on the plus side, it is worse than what we're facing with COVID. It transported me into another zone. If you feel, however, the book might be too heavy for lockdown reading, you might alternatively watch the 1959 motion picture version starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire and Anthony Perkins. But I warn you the theme song "Waltzing Mathilda" will break your heart.



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