Duperre is a master story-teller who, in this second book from the Rift series, manages to connect various styles, genres, themes, characters, and ultimately readers; all quite naturally and seamlessly. As I was reading, I felt as if a giant puzzle was being assembled before my eyes, with new characters and situations that were mysterious at first, then which gradually became integrated. Everything falls into place neatly, all the dots get connected.
This theme of connection really stands out, and in more ways than one. Characters are connected: there are duos of characters, like Bill and Chris, Corky and Shelly, Horace and Doug... Sometimes they're connected in their parallel pasts: Bill and Corky both spent time in prison after killing a young boy or girl. Taking a young boy or girl under their protection becomes an act of salvation, which is another important idea in the novel. Whether saving one's own skin, or someone else's, or a whole community's, it basically all comes down to the same thing, which is to save one's own soul by being good to fellow humans. It also means being able to open up, something many characters have trouble doing initially for various reasons.
Characters are connected too in the sense that they're all confronted with the same predicament, yet they don't deal with it in the same way. Some fight with religion (Eduardo), others with education (Bill), science (Horace), love (Kye), guns (Doug)... And some characters are connected through some kind of "Dreamworld", in which Marcy is central: she guides characters like Josh and Bill, just like the Virgin Mary guides Eduardo (another parallel). Everyone has their "guide" to cross this metaphorical desert. Just like the reader has the author to guide him through the story, which is a dreamworld in itself, connecting people from the real one: readers. There's a kind of interesting mise en abyme at work in everything Duperre does.
That's a metafictional aspect: there's a book within the book, with William's notes, where Duperre deftly manages to adopt a different style, using a somewhat pompous and grandiose voice, William being a college teacher.There are stories within the story: everyone's life has become a story with the event. There's a before and an after. Each being enhanced, paradoxically because or thanks to the terrible predicament they've been confronted with.
Another paradox is found in the beauty that still exists: vast expanses (of sea, of snow) look more calm and more beautiful in this context of death and desolation. Yet, there's an ambivalence throughout the narrative, as oftentimes characters are trapped in claustrophobic, confined places, where they have to lay low and wait, allowing for tension to build up (we know that "L'enfer, c'est les autres." as Jean-Paul Sartre deftly coined it in Huis Clos...). There are few violent scenes: as in the best stories, it's when nothing happens that you're scared. Think Alien 1 or anything by M. Night Shyamalan.
A Philosophical component emerges, summed up by Bill (he's the writer created by the writer) when he writes that the end of something is the beginning of another, which makes him even believe in the possibility of God. Everything is related.
As when I was reading The Rift Book 1, I had again this nice feeling, even though terrible things happen, because we know some of the characters, and we see them evolve and mature. And there are new, interesting characters like Bill and Corky. The book looks like a good "season 2" of your favourite series.
Paul Auster always claims that fairy-tales are the epitome of what makes a story a good story. There is a fairy-tale aspect at work here, thanks to magical creatures, dreams, parallel worlds. Duperre displays a lot of imagination, which could startle at first, yet paradoxically it is a way to make the whole thing "believable". A fairy tale asks the reader to suspend their disbelief. Therefore the zombie-thing becomes almost realistic by comparison. Very clever move. And it's also a way to tell us that it's all make-believe, and/or all symbolical, not to be taken literally. It's not even meant to be that scary. There's a mythological, legendary aspect. Or biblical: like the Book of Revelation, it mixes apocalypse and prophesy.
Onomastics are at work too. Interestingly enough, Marcy's last name is Caron, which sounds close to Charon, the mythological figure transporting people to death on his boat. I'm eager to read Book 3 and see how this ambitious saga unfolds. Congratulations, once again, Master (no spelling mistake here, it is an "a") Duperre.