In the best of times Gerald Nichols wouldn’t have had to become savage at all…but his are hardly the best of times.
So states the blurb on the cover of Savage Gerry, John Jantunen’s latest novel. The story of how and why Gerald came to be labelled as such is a complicated one. Acting out of self-defence and at other times, blind rage, Gerald has killed a number of people, and a bear as well. After killing the man who shot his wife, Gerald flees with their son into the Ontario wilderness, where they are eventually tracked down and captured. Gerald is sent to prison and Evers, his son is put in foster care.
As the blurb says, this is not the best of times. A recreational drug called Euphoral has had a global impact, getting people hooked, and if they don’t keep feeding their habit, they act out violently. The only way to deal with them is to shoot them or incarcerate them. There also has been a meltdown/explosion at the Pickering power plant on the shores of Lake Ontario, just east of Toronto (Yours truly once lived a stone’s throw from there). There’s not much left of that area and anyone escaping southern Ontario has already died of radiation poisoning. Abandoned vehicles line the 400 North.
As the night settled in, the moon’s pregnant crescent appeared behind the trees and the stars came out one by one. They looked less like great flaming balls of gas than the frays of string left over from a missing button. The image stuck in his mind such that by the time they reached where the 12’s two lanes ducked under the overpass supporting the 400’s four, it had begun to seem to Gerald that maybe the universe itself was coming undone.
They’d crawled up its far embankment and were peering over the metal guard rail. The highway’s four lanes were all jammed as far as the eye could see, an endless clog of vehicles, all of them abandoned and pointed north and as lifeless as a collection of Matchbox cars scattered over a boy’s bedroom floor after a week of rainy days.
Shoot, Clayton said when he’d stood up beside Gerald, who was tracing with mounting dread along the span of cars and trucks and there seeming to be no end to their reach. I—
But what he’d meant to say next was lost within the shroud of his gape, his mouth hanging open and his eyes growing wider in disbelief, the spectacular calamity before them quieting all but the ragged huff of his panted breaths.
Sudbury is in shambles. Oh, and a hellish group called The Sons of Adam Motorcycle Club hold sway over much of the territory, wreaking destruction on the innocent and helpless.
Savage Gerry opens inside a prison cell in the Central North Correctional Facility in which Gerald, another prisoner Jules and a rotting corpse formerly known as Orville lay in the dark for all power has been out and all the prison staff have fled. This sets the post-apocalyptic mood of the novel, although it is mainly confined to Northern Ontario; the situation of the outside world is largely unknown. Then, the wall of their cell is breached by a large machine (crushing Orville’s corpse) and freeing Gerald and Jules. The Sons of Adam have arrived to free Orville and others of their club and they have brought food, drink, and entertainment for their freed members. Gerald, however, while not being a member of The Sons, has their respect due to his well-documented past savagery, which we learn of in small measures as the story progresses.
Since Gerald is now free, he sets out (with a fellow inmate called Clayton Crisp) to find Evers not knowing whether he is dead or alive. He heads north to his old home in Capreol, just above Sudbury. The trip along the way is a long, strange one to say the least. Slightly reminiscent of Stephen King’s The Stand, as well as Mad Max (which gets a mention in the book) the forces of good (or at least, not-so-bad) and evil are at play here as well. While there are scenes of genuine horror, this is not a horror novel. I would call it post-apocalyptic literary suspense, as the reader, like Gerald never fully knows what he might come across on his foot journey north. One thing is sure: he will need all his skills to survive this sojourn.
John Jantunen is also the author of Cipher, No Quarter, and A Desolate Splendor. He has lived in almost every region of Canada and currently lives in Kingston, Ontario.
- Publisher : ECW Press (April 13 2021)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 344 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1770415602
- ISBN-13 : 978-1770415607
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James M. Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. He began TMR in 2015, realizing that there was a genuine need for more book reviews of Canadian literature. It has since become Canada’s best-regarded source for the finest in new literary releases. James has been interviewed about TMR on CBC Radio and other media sites. James works as a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technologist and lives in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife Diane and their tabby cat Eddie.