Odds Against Tomorrow (2013) is a story of Mitchell Zukor, a man obsessed with 21st century cultures of fear and the “worst case scenarios” which may strike at any time. After graduating college, Zukor begins to work on the “cutting edge of corporate irresponsibility” in order to indemnify large financial firms against liability in the event of large-scale disasters. Tapping into the anxiety that has defined the early 2000s (i.e. 9/11, Katrina, Financial Meltdown), author Nathaniel Rich places Zukor and Alec Charnoble at the epicenter of geopolitical power and fear: New York City. Zukor acts as a “natural terrorist” and a “Old Testament avenger” to scare companies into retaining expensive consulting services of “FutureWorld” which dubiously act in a court of law to indemnify these companies against suits by staff and clientele killed through corporate negligence. But Zukor, would up in his ornate doomsday prophecies, fails to see the all-too-predictable and real-life worst case scenario of an unseasonable hurricane before it crashes into Manhattan. Alongside the hilarious and calculating Jane Eppler, Zukor is forced to put aside his imagined fears to survive the storm and the FEMA-led recovery.
Although Odds never once mentions the phrase, “climate change,” the book is clearly contributing to the swelling tsunami of fiction which treats and takes climate change seriously (fans call it “cli fi”!). In the book, the apocalyptic hurricane Tammy is augmented by warmer-than-normal seas and the drought-hardened earth that cannot absorb Tammy’s deluge. In 2012, workers at the publishing facilities of Farrar, Straus, and Giroux eerily uncovered advanced copies of this novel when they re-opened their offices after “superstorm” Sandy slammed the Eastern Seaboard. Rich made the final proofs to his novel just following the storm he inadvertently foretold. He discusses this and cli-fi in a NPR interview with Angela Evancie: “So Hot Right Now: Has Climate Change Created a New Literary Genre?”
What constitutes a “natural disaster” in the 21st century? In a world of climate change and extensive risk analyses, do the old “acts of god” still fit the bill? Jeffrey Klueger penned an op-ed in Time magazine titled, “Is Global Warming Fueling Hurricane Katrina” on August 29th, 2005, when Katrina’s winds still battered New Orleans homes. Over a decade earlier, author and climate activist Bill McKibben asked if we have arrived at “the end of nature.” He argued, in his 1991 book by the same title, that there is no terrestrial ecosystem on the planet that lacks the fingerprint of human activity. As humans pump green house gas pollution into the atmosphere, McKibben and Kleuger at least implicitly argue that human beings have become responsible for “nature” and its “disasters.” When the heat from our engines contributes to the dynamo of hurricanes, we trouble the (perhaps always flawed) distinctions between the realms of “culture” and “nature.” If one accepts that natural disasters must affect people to be considered a “disaster” instead of a “hazard,” do the cities and businesses placed in risky environments construct future violence even in times of peace? Are all natural disasters really just human disasters naturalized in a denial of our collective agency?
Odds Against Tomorrow explores the pits of American anxiety in a profoundly tumultuous world while depicting a massive, human catastrophe. From foresight, to preparation, to response, Odds Against Tomorrow propels the reader forward through a literary thriller that also stands as a clinic on the uneven vulnerability people face in an era of climate change and high finance run amuck. Who stands to lose and win in this brave new world? Its hard to know: “the future is not what it used to be.”
Review Submitted by: Shane D Hall
Rating: Category 5 Summer Read. Not to be read in Manhattan during a storm!!!