The Survivalists by Kashana Cauley – Different Ways to Build a Bunker You Can’t Use

The Survivalists is Kashana Cauley’s 2023 novel about a young New York lawyer questioning her direction in life. She starts dating the owner of a coffee business, whose two housemates are survivalists – people who spend their time preparing for disasters and societal breakdown.

If you’re wanting a story where New York succumbs to something like a zombie virus, leading to chaotic scenes of soldiers barricading bridges, while choppers fly overhead, then this is not the book for you. The setting is a resolutely un-apocalyptic New York, where people struggle with jobs and relationships. Disaster would be easier to deal with if we all knew what it looked like. The survivalists described in the story spend their time preparing for what never seems to happen, while getting blindsided by unexpected developments. The book satirises the cliches of disaster, and undercuts our clumsy attempts to achieve security. People might prepare for life’s uncertainty by spending a fortune on going to law school in the hope of landing a secure job. That job might never materialise, leaving the law-school survivalist with debts they can’t pay. Going to law school is a bit like building a bunker in the back garden, designed for a nuclear war, but flooding in heavy rain.

The Survivalists is an interesting novel, often funny when the cliches of danger collide with the unpredictable challenges of real life. It’s also timely, exploring the concerns of an anxious age, confirming that while the ground beneath our feet is indeed wobbly, there is nothing to be gained by worrying about something that will probably never happen. I found The Survivalists a nuanced and oddly reassuring read.

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