fiction / literary fiction / review

The Survivalists by Kashana Cauley

I have followed the author of The Survivalists on Twitter for years and was really excited about the book. I suggested it to several library systems to buy. I enjoyed her Grub Street Diet which I read after the book and filled in some blanks for me. I too grew up eating seasonally because it was cheaper.

Still, I ended up not loving the book the way I expected I would.

It was a great, fun idea but maybe it should have been a short story. It was fairly repetitive and felt like it was building up to something that never happened. Which I bet is the reality for a lot of survivalists but it doesn’t make for a satisfying book.

I could never get a firm grasp on when this book was supposed to be taking place. Some of it seemed recent-ish (dating apps, axe throwing, Hurricane Sandy lawsuits) but the main character talks about being born in the 1980s and was only about 6 years out of law school. She was in NYC for Hurricane Sandy (2012) and the lawsuits were largely in 2019.

Another lawyer told her about how members of the staff were reminiscing about the coke-filled eighties but anyone who was working then would be quite old now. Aren’t legal secretaries allowed to retire?

If I were the author, I would have removed references to anything that pinned down the date. A lot of the book felt like it took place in the early 2000s (the lack of social media really stood out) then she built a lot around Hurricane Sandy which is a real event that happened at a time we can pinpoint. I wonder if the author drew on her own experiences as a lawyer 15-20 years ago and didn’t focus on how it would be different in 2023? The pop culture references felt like they’d be from someone born from maybe 1979-1983, not 1989 (which is the earliest I think would work for the character and that’s only if the book takes place four years ago). It sounds like a small difference but technology and life moved really fast in the 2000s to today. Just make up a hurricane and blur the edges of everything. I think the issue may be the author drawing too much from their own life and not thinking about how those experiences would be different 5-10 years later.

The boyfriend was not fleshed out, I kept thinking his constant coffee-buying trips would lead to some plot but they didn’t. He seemed like a tool to just get her into the prepper household. The other two people in the house were very flat as well. I know it was really supposed to be about the main character and her inner world but they were in the book too much to not have any personality. The way they were described was virtually identical every time they appeared on the page.

Some parts were really over the top and satirical (like the ridiculous bee pollen restaurant) but other parts weren’t at all which made the book feel very uneven.

It ended up feeling like two books crammed into one—a book about Black preppers/survivalists (which would be great) and a book about a lawyer who is alone, disenfranchised, and disillusioned by everything she thought was her goal in life (also would be great). However, these aspects weren’t blended very well and as a result neither story really felt real or connected. I almost wondered if she started writing one book, had an idea and combined the two.

My dream job would be reading for continuity and timeline issues. Publishers, please contact me. This is a major problem in so many books and disrupts the feel and flow of the novel so much. I don’t know if all readers pick up on it but I think it does add to the book feeling “off” in some way. I think really good books or more lowkey books can overcome timeline issues better but in books like this that are uneven and where you are looking for “clues” about what is going to happen next they really stand out.

One thought on “The Survivalists by Kashana Cauley

  1. Pingback: Day 1066: Lobster Bake – Rachel Eats Dinner

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