The Three by Sarah Lotz (Little, Brown, May 20th, 2014)-Four planes crash in different places throughout the world. Three children, one from each of three sites, are the only survivors, although there are pervasive rumors of a fourth. An American woman (the only one on a Japanese flight), Pamela May Donald, supposedly survives long enough after one of the crashes to leave a cryptic message on her phone, directed at a certain Pastor Len, that alludes to a boy and “the dead people.” This leads Pastor Len to believe that the children may be three of the four horsemen, and that the end times are approaching. That sounds more simplistic than it really is, though. There is a progression, not only of events, but of certain ideas, that lead to such apocalyptic talk, and a rather odd fervor is created. But, a little should be said about the survivors. All are of a certain age (under 10) and come from fairly different backgrounds, two boys and a girl. Jess Craddock is sent to live with her gay uncle Paul, little Bobby’s grandparents, including a grandfather suffering from Alzheimer’s, takes him in, and little Hiro Yanagida, the son of a brilliant Japanese robot expert, is left with his aunt and cousin. The boy, in fact, communicates only through a lifelike robot that his father has created in his image. If you think that sounds creepy, you’d be right. The story of these three unusual kids is told in book-inside-a-book form, called Black Thursday: From Crash to Conspiracy by Elspeth Martins, and each tale is laid out in quite different ways. Paul and Jess’s tale plays out via Paul’s confessional style voice recordings, Bobby’s by way of interviews of his grandmother and neighbors, and Hiro’s in the form of his teen cousin Chiyoko’s instant messages to a lonely young man, Ryu, that longs to be with her. There’s also a search going on for “Kenneth”, the rumored survivor of the Africa crash. Also in the mix is testimony from the crash investigators and a few others. It makes for a potent brew.
This is a complex book, and there’s really no easy way to sum up the events. I can say that Lotz is an expert in the creepies, but I already knew that (see The Mall, her novel as ½ of SL Grey). For example, Pamela’s plane lands in Aokigahara, also known as the Suicide Forest or Sea of Trees. It’s estimated that up to 100 suicides occur there each year. There are actually signs there encouraging people to reconsider their actions. Like I said, creepy. Hauntingly beautiful, but creepy. Pamela’s last vision before her death includes some of the most unsettling imagery in the book. The kids are certainly a bit “off”, most of all Jess, and Bobby seems to have a miraculous effect on one of his family members. The biggest clue to what’s going on, early in the book, comes from Jess, and her uncle’s suspicion that she’s not the real Jess begins to consume him. His spiral is devastating, but you won’t be able to tear your eyes away.
It’s not worth your time to try to plug this book into any particular genre. It has horror elements, certainly, and thriller elements, but considering the end times angle, and Pastor Lem’s certainty that The Three are harbingers of Revelations being upon us, it’s also a very clever, and thoughtful exploration of extremism in all its forms, and also our fascination with disaster and its aftermath. Lotz’s character studies are nothing short of fascinating, and if the book’s structure kept me at arm’s length from the characters a bit, that’ s ok, because this book is so damn cleverly put together, and Lotz’s attention to detail is phenomenal. The Three will reward readers in the end, at least it did me, and each little slice of life, and death, that I experienced along the way was a treat. The Three is a solid, absorbing-and yes, creepy-solo effort from a very talented author. Can’t wait to see what she does next!