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Likely Stories - The Displacements

Of all the books I have read recently, the one I have recommended to the most people is “The Displacements” by Bruce Holsinger.

Holsinger is an award-winning author of both fiction and non-fiction books, and he is also a professor of medieval literature at the University of Virginia. The Displacements is Holsinger’s fourth novel and is set in contemporary United States in the aftermath of a record-making Category Six hurricane.

The “Displacements” refers to millions of internally displaced persons forced to flee the path of destruction left in the wake of the storm, called Hurricane Luna. The novel opens with Luna’s first landfall, which batters the southern coast of Florida, destroying Miami and surrounding cities. This results in the first wave of migration, which sends the Displacements to multiple FEMA-run megashelters spread throughout the United States. While waves of Floridians flee the path of destruction, Luna gains strength as it barrels across the Gulf of Mexico. Luna makes a second devastating landfall with a storm surge that levels much of the Texas coast, including Houston and Galveston. This results in a second wave of refugees pouring into already overfull shelters, including Tooley Farm in Oklahoma, which is the novel’s primary setting.

Holsinger’s novel focuses on the experiences of three protagonists: Daphne, an evacuee from Miami forced to relocate to the camp with her children; Rainn, a FEMA relief worker in charge of coordinating the megashelters’ logistics along with the federal and state aid to the camp; and Tate, an opportunistic con-man who preys on vulnerable camp residents. Tooley Farm is populated with characters from diverse backgrounds, including both the very affluent and those of lesser means. But in the camp everyone is equally destitute.

In the days following the storm, the Displacements learn they have no homes to which they can return, making their stay at Tooley Farm indefinite. Amidst this uncertainty and shifting camp dynamics as new refugees arrive, tension among the Displacements soon erupts into open conflict, fueled in part by prejudice as well as political cleavages that are exacerbated rather than mitigated by shared suffering.

Without giving away details about how the story plays out, I will say this book was gripping from the first page. I was invested in all of the characters, even the ones that were not particularly likeable, and I stayed up late into the night, finishing the four hundred plus page book in a single day.

One of the most interesting features of the book is that Holsinger weaves together the Tooley Farm characters’ story arcs with flash-forwards to a digital chronicle that recounts Luna’s destruction, the resulting mass migration, and efforts to rebuild the cities and individual lives affected by the storm. These digital records provide the reader not only with a retrospective on the successes and failures of the government’s response to this fictionalized disaster, but also they give the reader the occasion to reflect on the real-life implications of natural disasters that are intensified by climate change. For this reason, I think this is a perfect book-club selection.

Until the next episode of Likely Stories, I hope you find a good book that helps you to escape to places both real and imaginary,

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