Justin C’s Letter Essay #7, Fallout

Recently I’ve finished reading Fallout, written by Todd Strasser. It is a 258 page realistic fiction book set in the early 1960s, it is a fictional past that is about an atom bomb that was dropped on Washington DC. during “World War III”. This book is actually based on the author and his brother when they were getting a nuclear bunker installed behind their house during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The book alternates in a timeline that starts about 20 days before the bomb fell to the night before, and a timeline that starts the minute the sirens started to about 3 weeks after the bomb fell. In the end of the book you are given a little backstory about the author’s life, and it shows that when writing this book, Todd Strasser actually revisited his home for reference. The trapdoor to the bunker was never removed from the home, the new owners kept it there, sealed it on the other side and placed carpet on the top, the entire bunker was still below the house.

You start in the 2nd timeline with sirens blazing, Scott -The main character-’s dad orders Sparky and Scott to retreat to the bunker immediately, Sparky is around 9 years old while Scott is about 12. Scott gathers as much as he can before hastily climbing down the bunker ladder, while Sparky asks non-stop about what’s happening, Sparky is very annoying in the first third of the story. Scott’s family are the only one’s who thought of installing a nuclear bunker during the missile crisis, and because of this everyone on the block was prying at the bunker trapdoor, Scott’s dad fought off all the hands while the rest of his family climbed down, Mr. Shaw, Mrs. Shaw, Ronnie their son, Janet, Mr. McGovern, and Paula his daughter got into the bunker as unwanted guests before boom, a bright light appears outside of the bunker, and all the people on the top are quickly wiped away, Scott’s dad pulls down the bunker trapdoor before the blast wave can seep into the bunker. As the dad is climbing down the ladder,  Scott yells “Watch out for mom!”, the dad look down to see Scott’s mom laying on the floor with a blank expression with Sparky sitting on top of her, a pool of red liquid spreads from underneath them. After a while inside the bunker, the family and the guests begin to run out of food and Scott’s father begins questioning how much water is left in the tank, it’s during this time that Mr. McGovern begins to question Scott’s father’s authority and starts to advocate for kicking two people out of the shelter to reduce food and water consumption rates. Scott’s father is strictly against this as well as Mrs. Shaw, Scott, Sparky, and Janet, Mr. Shaw, Paula, and Ronnie don’t have a strong preference. Tension builds and as food begins to dwindle, Mr. Shaw becomes more and more anxious to escape the shelter while Mr. McGovern protests Scott’s Father’s authority more often…

After every chapter, the timelines switch, now you’re in the first timeline which takes place on a late summer evening, Scott and his friends “Freak o’ Nature”, and Ronnie, are lying outside watching baseball on the television. When Ronnie suggests that they go “retrieve” a Sara Lee Cheesecake from Linda’s garage. “Freak o’ Nature’s” real name is Norman Freeman, and he usually talks in a “Tonto from the Lone Ranger” kind of accent. They’re all hungry at the time and eventually agree to do it, they get caught by Linda and are all sent home where their parents are notified of the theft attempt, when Scott’s dad gets home, Scott fears that he might get spanked for trying to steal, but instead just has a conversation with him about the future. The dad starts to talk about the possibility of a new addition to the house, a playroom, a bathroom, and underneath them, a fallout shelter. Scott supports this idea and soon it becomes a reality, now the threat of nuclear war is lurking in every corner and some people stop going to school or work, or start doing bad things with one reason, we could all be dead tomorrow…

This passage is very important in the book, it demonstrates how the tension between Mr. McGovern and Scott’s Father builds.

“Dad gathers himself up. ‘I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again. Over… My… Dead… Body.’

‘It won’t be just your dead body- it will be everyone’s,’ Mr. Mcgovern continues, then turns to the Shaws. ‘Who gave him the right to make decisions for all of us? Because it’s his bomb shelter? I’m sorry, but I don’t think that matters anymore. We’re all in this together now. Are you really comfortable putting your live in his hands? Letting him decide how much we eat and drink?’” (Page 166)

This passage shows how tensions can build in a closed area with low food and water, how insanity fights it’s way into everyone, Mr. McGovern is the first to become irrational and this passage shows that, and it shows how he’s affected by that. This book reminded me of a game called “Fallout 4” which has a very similar story, it’s set during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Soviet Union actually fires the missiles, people are loaded into local vaults, the only differences are that technology has been boosted, and the vaults each have secret experiments that are covertly exercised on the inhabitants of the vaults. I like the way the author made a story based on his own childhood, while incorporating horror, humor, tension, education, and fiction in the book. The main character in this story and the author are actually the same people and his friends in the story were also real. I rate this book a 9/10, it is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

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