NeWest Press, 2021
Reviewed by Kirsten Dayne
Last Tide, Andy Zuliani’s debut novel, is a dark exploration of how people come together in the midst of crises—both natural and man-made. The book is split into three parts: “Reformatting,” “Fifteen Feet,” and “Death and Surfing.” Although it is literary fiction, it bears a resemblance to disaster science fiction. Despite this, Last Tide is so frighteningly possible, readers may soon forget these origins; just because it hasn’t yet happened doesn’t mean it won’t.
Last Tide follows four narrators as they navigate various disasters of differing levels of severity on a small island in the Pacific Northwest: a car crash, a disappearance, and the likelihood that the “Big One”—a massive earthquake along the Pacific Rim and resulting tsunami—could happen anywhere “two hundred years from now, or ten, or in a week.” All this and the smaller quakes in addition to past deaths relating to the currents, makes islanders feel “like the island wants [them] off of it.”
Ana and Win work for a company similar to Google Maps’ Street View, surveying for land developers that only see the island’s potential for redevelopment. Lena is an oceanographer trying to give the islanders early warning for the inevitable quake. Kitt is an athleisurewear industrialist looking to build his dream weekend home—and apocalypse bunker—on the island despite scorning the tight-knit community he is joining.
The first chapter introduces us to Ana’s haunting past and her ability to “reformat” the streets in her head. Unfortunately, readers are treated to too much interior monologue as she sits in her van, camera perched on the roof, describing the technical aspects of the job. Ana’s interwoven history is the saving grace of this chapter, which lacks dialogue to leaven the prose.
Thankfully, in the second chapter, Win is introduced as Ana’s only friend, helping her through a panic attack. Win says Ana’s name “again, and again, until Ana’s eyes meet hers, and her friend returns.”To give Ana a welcome distraction, Win finds the two of them a job on a small island called Peliatos. Ana’s research into the history of the island weighs down the narrative when less would be more.
Once there, the residents of the island treat them with suspicion, as the two women represent the threat of change. When they crash the van, Lena, a pillar in the community, takes them in as they recover. Lena’s narration acts as the connecting tissue between Ana and Win, the island community, and Kitt. She’s a source of information on the island and for the reader.
When Kitt is introduced, he immediately ruffles feathers as an egotistical hypocrite who looks upon the people of Peliatos with disdain. He has no desire to connect with the islanders, and when a young surfer girl, part of a group of drifters on the island, goes missing, he is quick to stereotype: “He knows them. Not personally, but he knows their life, their type. … He knew losers like these from back when he shared a hobby with them, lifers, all riding the same wave.” Ana and Win’s deep friendship and sensitivity is a stark contrast to his biting critique.
In a series of flashbacks, we learn how Ana and Win met, and of the pasts of all four characters. Everyone is adrift with Lena as the sole anchor while Marcus (with a compelling story of his own) tries to find the truth behind his sister’s disappearance. Kitt tries to keep his build on track despite the community’s contempt.
When Lena’s sensors alert them that the “Big One” is coming, they all flee to higher ground. Will everyone come together to face the larger crisis or will they be divided by their differences? In the end, change comes, regardless of their abilities or intentions. Zuliani was born in Vancouver and lives in the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh Nations. He calls Last Tide a narrative of “of crisis, of healing, and of [an] improvised communit[y] of care.”