Z FOR ZACHARIAH by Robert C. O'Brien
by Christiaan O'Dea
(Melbourne, Victoria, Australia)
I read Z for Zachariah when I was 12. 28 years later, the ending remains as vivid and thought provoking as if I have just read the final words.
The novel itself has an interesting history. Author Robert C. O'Brien died while writing the final chapter, and his family completed and published the novel posthumously.
It was the first novel that left me wondering about what happened next. I'd never experienced a story that continued past the final words, and it haunts me to think of those characters and what they did next. Rather heady stuff for a 12-year-old.
The story revolves around post apocalyptic middle America, with Ann and her dog the sole survivor protected from the nuclear devastation in her farm valley.
One day a visitor in a radiation suit comes across the horizon and changes Ann's haven. Mr Loomis, is from the outside, and brings not only radiation sickness but a secret.
Ann looks after him when he falls into a coma, and during his ravings reveals he killed a colleague who wanted to use the suit to find his family.
When he recovers, John Loomis looks to Ann for more than just a friend, and after a failed attempt to rape her she hides out in the valley, using her knowledge to avoid him.
Climactically, he tightens the noose, locking the food supply, and using her own dog to track her, until Ann realises the only escape is to leave her valley.
The final act, where Loomis suggests he once saw birds indicating possible life, and Ann walking away from her home, her haven in his suit, continues to be one of my most enduring and haunting literary memories.