In Aurora by David Koeep a family with underlying grievances explodes when the power goes down. This dystopian thriller uses a global blackout — a major coronal mass ejection on the sun – but it appears to be there largely to add context to the family drama. After a brief scene setting about how the world leaders fail to respond when told the plot focuses on the family. The novel then focuses on family strife in a blackout.
The family members cope better with the global blackout than they do with each other. This is less of a dystopian ‘what if’ and more of how an external trauma antagonises family sores. What happens to turn the power back on is not what this story is about.
The story is smoothly written and intriguing to follow and with well drawn characters. At times it feels like a movie (Koepp is a successful screenwriter: Jurassic Park,Spider-Man), with not a lot of depth in the story, more about the journey of the family through to reconciliation. It may yet make it to Netflix.
Thom’s story focuses on how he is prepared for the apocalypse so when it happens Koepp focuses a lot on what he has done in his hideout – a disused missile silo – to prepare for it. In spite of all the preparations it does not go to plan so much that his wife (a peripheral figure in the novel) leaves him. The morale of his story is that no one actually wanted to live in prison like conditions. Thom was not that easily relatable to famous billionaires in the real world – lacking context to the outside world.
Aubrey, Thom’s sister, is a woman and mother who made bad mistakes in her life (like Rusty, her ex, and the step son she ended up with). Unlike her brother she is unprepared for the global disaster. To make a point, she refuses to join her brother in his hideout. But her inner strength makes her the person you want to succeed in this novel but you also feel her vulnerabilities when Rusty seeks to manipulate her.
Scott, the step son, as a teenager, has many cliches to his character including his rebellious behaviour and attitude to his step mother. He has rejected his ineffectual father, Rusty, for his step-mother. But beyond that I could not feel enough of his pain he had been through in his life. The blackout brings Scott and Aubrey back together as he learns from her resourcefulness to cope without electricity.
Rusty is a suitably many layered with his obsession with his ex – Aubrey, and his son, Scott. He also lives very much on the edge with a day to day existence. For all of his menacing behaviour he is ultimately weak and desperate.
The story starts with the global blackout. The blackout gradually becomes more secondary as the family characters intertwine. Thom’s minder Brady is sent on a road trip to visit Aubrey but the break down in society only appears as a couple of junkies who broke into a building, which could happen anytime. It takes persistent attention from Rusty to drive the plot.
Aubrey becomes the centre of the story – Thom sends Brady to reach out to her, Scott moves his girlfriend in, Rusty breaks in , and the neighbours grow vegetables with her on their lawns. Close to Aubrey is the neighbour, Norman, who brings a little tenderness to her life.
The novel flags about half way through as the story slows down. It is worth staying the course as it reaches a dramatic finale. However, the chapter before the finale ends with a reference that there will be blood on the wall in the next chapter – the climax to the story. I found this annoying, if it is a teaser it failed. The plot was sufficient to encourage me without needing a prompt about what is next.