Scribe is a hell of a book. It starts off like any other post-apocalyptic fiction. It dances along that same line that so many other dystopian tales do, somewhere between sci-fi and horror, never putting its toes too far over one way or the other. And then it slowly, but surely, changes. What you thought was a post-apocalyptic tale of survival turns into a ghost story, or maybe it’s a fairy tale, or maybe it’s just a good old-fashioned Appalachian folk story.
Unlike a lot of books that genre shift this way, Scribe never seems disjointed. Every odd happening, every new wrinkle, flows from previous events as inevitably as death flows from life. Even in its most bizarre and hallucinatory moments, Hagy’s prose remains sharp and clear. Never once was I left wondering what had happened, or was happening, even as the protagonist was cut loose to wander across a blighted vision of rural America.
One of the most interesting aspects of Scribe, to me, is that it keeps you guessing as to when the action happens. When I started reading, I felt confident the book was set in the not-too distant future. But repeated references to a “civil war” without explanation of who fought whom and why, coupled with dialog about recently freed slaves made me suspect this story took place in the late 1800s. Other references to private prisons and displaced refugees bring it back to a more modern feel. I think ultimately, we are left to consider how issues once thought settled can become problems again, and history can sometimes turn on a cycle.
I would recommend this book to anyone who likes travel stories, stories about negotiating conflict with difficult neighbors, or stories about people trying to get by in difficult times. If you are looking for The Walking Dead, or a story about the immediate difficulties of surviving in a dying world, this probably isn’t the book for you. Scribe is more concerned about the way people go on being people, even in the hardest times, than it is in detailing the day to day actions needed to remain alive. I think it is that focus on humanity, at our best and our worst, that makes this book well worth reading.