Readers shouldn’t always expect to find a happy story in fictional accounts of post-nuclear war survival. But the need for hope is crucial for one to believe life is worth living and the reader needs to share that hope in order to be willing to keep turning the pages. In Terry DeHart’s novel The Unit, hope is thin and depleting rapidly. However, in this case it is the character’s search for hope rather than the need which draws the reader in.
The Unit follows the journey of Jerry Sharpe and his family as they walk across a war torn America in search of the humanity they once knew. The premise is simple. Those who accept the situation for what it is and are prepared are more likely to survive than those who are not. But even the most prepared people are vulnerable in a world where logic and compassion do not necessarily exist anymore.
Written in first person, each chapter is dedicated to an individual character’s point of view. This is a unique perspective when one considers the uncertainty of the situation and how people differ in their motives. In a traditional narrative, the reader can be left with unanswered questions and allowed to fill in the blanks with their mind’s eye. But here, there is little left on the table for the reader. And this is also where the reader understands the desperation of the situation, but continues on journey anyway.
Jerry Sharpe is determined to deliver his family from this hell, constantly in conflict between his delusional pride of provider and the disparity of what will happen if he is gone. From a different perspective, his wife Susan constantly questions her husband’s abilities and logic, often contemplating leaving him at the earliest opportunity. The daughter Melanie is the most vulnerable. Clouded by naivety, she assumes everything will eventually get back to normal at any moment. But like her mother, she also wonders how bad it would be without a troublesome family to tag along. Scott is brash and chivalrous. More reminiscent of today’s disaster story characters, he was probably laying in waiting, too enthusiastic about the prospect of doom and gloom or a zombie apocalypse. Wanting to prove himself to his sister and parents, he sees this as an exciting adventure and an opportunity to use all of those survival skills he had gleaned from books, TV and video games.
Each of the four main characters seems to have their own individual motive while everyone else is merely a nuisance. But it is that tiny thread of safety in numbers which seems to be the only binding tie between any of them. With a title like The Unit, the reader might expect something a little different. It is not known if DeHart intended on the characters being such a contradiction to the title in order to show the desperation of the situation, but it certainly leaves an element of irony after the last page.
Even the bad guys get individual attention via first person narration. Disturbing as it may be, the reader is offered a better understanding of some of the more heinous acts. This does not mean DeHart is trying to justify their actions. But right or wrong, the narrative does provide the twisted understanding of the new post apocalyptic environment and how moral integrity can evaporate in a survival situation.
For those looking for a feel good story about how a family faces adversity, this might not be the book for you. Even those looking for an example of the benefits of preparedness may come away disappointed because no matter how ready one might be, there will always be a scenario you thought could never happen…until it does. If the reader wants a no-holds-barred account of desperation and is willing to accept that not every story has a happy ending, then Terry DeHart’s novel The Unit may be right up your alley. With this well worn setting, it will be the characters that eventually pull the reader through.