The Children’s Hospital
By Chris Adrian. McSweeney’s, $24.
Forget everything you know about doomsday lit. In his debut novel, Chris Adrian turns the concept on its head with his disaster tale of a flood covering the earth with a seven-mile-deep layer of water, leaving the inhabitants of a magically engineered and angel-commissioned children’s hospital as the only survivors.
The hospital staff members continue to dutifully perform their jobs attending to sick children, sure that they’ll soon hit land. The protagonist is Jemma Chaflin—medical student and all-around tragic figure—whose entire family has previously perished by either gruesome accidents or suicide, leaving Jemma to believe that anyone she loves is cursed. As months pass, they float uneasily, fighting madness, suspicion and fear, eventually shedding their Old World ways and breaking from the social order they instituted. Jemma stands out when she starts exhibiting mystical healing powers and is whispered to be everything from a Jesus figure to a demon.
The 600-page tome is flabby in parts and heavier editing could’ve excised the slow midsection. But Adrian has a way with weirdly arresting images, and the religion found here is of the palpable, God-fearing, apocalyptic kind, all sprung from his singular imagination.