I've said this before, but reading is escapism for me, and when I want to escape, I generally want to explore worlds very much unlike my own. Usually that implies the supernatural or worlds where the laws of nature are skewed or blurred, but not always. Sometimes I just want to see a different version of the world I already live in, or rather, how strange our world has the potential to become.
For me, THE ELEVENTH PLAGUE hit that sweet spot.
It's the world I live in, yes, but a chilling, near-future version, so transformed by plague and war as to be unrecognizeable. And yet there are familiar, well-placed details: a dilapidated Starbucks covered in vines, the golden arches, bleached-out atop a rusted pole. Unsettling combinations of the familiar and the surreal reminiscent of the head of the Statue of Liberty at the end of 'Planet of the Apes'. And that, in a nutshell, is the overall texture of The Eleventh Plague.
I was truly impressed by Hirsch's ability to create such a tangible and tactile world in so few words. For me, that was one of the main strengths of this book. I'm sure any reader would agree that when the description transports you so thoroughly, making you utterly forget your own world ever existed, that alone makes it worth the read. Like Gary Paulsen or Cormac McCarthy, Hirsch doesn't drone on with detail after detail. It's just the right amount, at just the right time, and always well phrased.
I'd say that factor extends beyond his descriptive skills and applies to every aspect of his writing: the right element, at the right time, and in the right proportion. I scanned a couple other reviews and saw that not everybody was pleased with the plot. I would have to disagree. It certainly wasn't a long book, but a lot happens in a short amount of time, and even one more plot point would have been too much. Just like one more character would have been too many, and one more paragraph of internal monologue would have been tedious.
Also with regards to plot, plenty of interesting stuff happens to this book's hero, Stephen, but equally fascinating is the evolution of his character -- the emotional journey he takes, the hard choices he makes. At times he takes his need to survive to a sociopathic level like his grandfather, other times, he chooses to hope in the face of overwhelming despair. I found myself alternately rooting for him and wishing he'd straighten up and stop acting like a jackass. Its all very poignant, and compelling, and overall, well executed.
In short, from page one, Hirsch's writing is consistantly tight, the characters are unique and believable, and the story-telling is gripping yet brisk, without skimping on the twists and surprises. Pretty much everything a reader hopes to get out of a book. I would absolutely recommend this one.
Now on to check out Hirsch's supernatural work, 'Magesterium'.