The Displacements by Bruce Holsinger
Published by Riverhead Books
Publication date: July 5, 2022
Genres: Fiction, Dystopian, Suspense
In the late 70s, early 80s disaster books and movies were most often centered around manmade situations—The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure, The China Syndrome, and Airport. It was man’s technical overreach that was going to take us down or at least had us worried. The latest crop of disaster novels is again looking at man’s hubris, but in relation to our abuse of the planet. Bruce Holsinger shares one such dystopic vision in his latest novel, The Displacements.
Daphne is a burgeoning artist and mother of two pre-teens. Her husband, Brantley, is a surgeon and they live in a big, shiny, glass house in Miami. By-and-large life is good, even if Daphne’s stepson, Gavin, has dropped out of Stanford, moved home and is a less than positive presence. When a hurricane is headed their way they follow their standard evacuation drill: grab the dog, fill the van with the basics, bring all financial and personal documents, and head north to stay in a hotel until the storm passes. Nothing surprising, but it makes for a very short and boring novel.
Instead, Holsinger creates hurricane Luna—the world’s first Category 6 hurricane thanks to increasing climate change conditions. The chaos means Brantley has to evacuate patients and can’t join them. They head north, without him becoming part of a massive evacuee caravan. By the end of the day, Daphne’s purse is confirmed missing, and the van’s out of gas and they’re sleeping in it at the side of the road. With all their other options gone and no word from Brantley, the family ends up at a FEMA mega-shelter in Oklahoma with nothing but what each could carry.
Daphne is one of three narrators in The Displacements. She’s joined by Rain, the FEMA organizer and Tate, an insurance agent in Houston with a side hustle selling drugs. They all converge on the camp, where Holsinger slowly simmers the tension to a boil. Rain tries to manage a disparate population of 10,000 displaced persons, Tate sees an opportunity to score big and it’s not with insurance claims, and Daphne is in a slow downward roll from her formerly comfortable perch in life.
The Displacements is can’t-stop-reading, saturated with a distinctly uncomfortable, helpless feeling. Although everything is compressed into the absolute worse-case scenario, it’s not implausible. Holsinger cleverly manipulates events without making the reader feel manipulated. Instead, each tiny detail folds neatly into the narrative for stomach-clenching reading. All of which is further enhanced by the fourth narrator: the hurricane itself. Not cheesy talking weather, but something even more upsetting, an implacable force of nature doing nothing but what it was built to do.
While the hurricane’s fury and wreckage is the precipitating event in the novel Holsinger skillfully portrays life in a mega-shelter in a way that drives home the devastation of displacement. In presenting these realities—living in tents, communal bathrooms, no internet, arbitrary mealtimes and food, no privacy—and no end in sight, Holsinger drives home what mother nature striking back could come to mean for all of us.
Like your apocalypse mixed with a bit of hope? Try Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. One of my all-time favorites in the genre.
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