It’s rather easy to be drawn to disaster fiction. Writers and poets task themselves with navigating and giving voice to our collective anxieties. They at once offer clarity and comfort. It’s fiction as cultural critic, as social worker for the collective psyche. It’s interpreter of events and also a proscription of remedies. It’s a balance, too. Though the art is political in subject, it should still retain the qualities of art. It must be emotionally generous without being sentimental, tackle pride without preaching jingoism. Don DeLillo proved himself to be perfect for the post 9/11 novelist years before the Towers were brought down. All of his novels are imbued with an existential dread, the feeling that something is off in the air, a little too still, a cataclysm slowly churning forward from just past the horizon. And now with Odds Against Tomorrow Nathaniel Rich submits his entry for the post-Sandy novel.
Odds Against Tomorrow opens quickly, introducing the reader to the protagonist during a major disaster in a large U.S. metropolis. Mitchell Zukor is an analytics and math prodigy, and like many exceptionally gifted individuals his overactive brain is both gift and curse. Though he’s been tapped to work for a large insurance company specializing in foreseeing and insuring against major catastrophes, his worst-case projections render him paranoid, a Wall-Street doomsayer street prophet. When one of his predictions comes true, he’s caught amid a major, unprecedented disaster.
There are hallmarks of Nathaniel Rich’s writing that invoke other accomplished novelists. I’d posit his language and voice owes a debt to DeLillo and perhaps more obliquely David Foster Wallace. His prescient content and tone clearly showcases he’s done homework on predictive mathematical formulae, disaster relief, and projected societal behaviors as a result of national disasters. I’m personally very interested to see Rich’s work in the future and how he’ll define his work as a novelist.