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The Displacements


The Displacements

I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that Bruce Holsinger’s new novel has been published so close to the start of the Atlantic hurricane season. I’m sure I won’t be the only one who, having read it, will be bracing all season long for the horrific events he imagines to come true. That’s how chillingly convincing this climate thriller is.

THE DISPLACEMENTS is set in the very near future. The COVID-19 pandemic is still fresh in the minds of most, and young people like Mia, her older half-brother Gavin, and her little brother Oliver are still recovering from the disruptions and social isolation that have characterized much of their lives. But they haven’t seen anything yet. The family has recently relocated from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Coral Gables, Florida. Mia’s mom, Daphne, an accomplished sculptor and potter, has struggled with the move, even though her husband Brantley is thrilled with their lavish lifestyle and his prestigious job as a surgeon at a nearby hospital. Daphne can’t shake her growing feelings of isolation or Gavin’s increasing animosity toward her, for reasons she can’t discern.

"[T]he family’s predicament and the ever-worsening situation at the camp (not to mention the outside world) plays out like a movie, the circumstances of which are perpetuated by a storm whose potential is all too real."

However, the family’s comfortable lives and relatively minor concerns are about to get a whole lot more complicated as Hurricane Luna starts to bear down on southern Florida. At first, the storm looks like it will skirt the area, causing minimal damage. But soon, it becomes clear that Luna has set her sights directly on Miami --- and, what’s more, she’s about to be classified as the first-ever Category 6 hurricane. As intended by the officials who give it that designation, the idea of a Cat 6 strikes fear into the hearts of not only Daphne’s family, but almost all residents of south Florida. Brantley will stay behind to oversee the hospital evacuation, but the rest of the family (even their dog, Cricket) piles into their minivan to drive north to safety.

Through a series of circumstances too complicated to spell out here (plus you really need to read it to believe it), the evacuation goes horribly awry. Daphne, Gavin, Mia and Oliver wind up in one of more than a dozen “megashelters” scattered throughout the country. Theirs is in a former fairground in rural Oklahoma, and soon the family is making do in a four-person tent, where before they lived in a beachfront mansion. There, Daphne recognizes the true extent of her isolation, and its repercussions, as she quickly realizes how few resources she can rely on when it really counts.

Over the coming weeks and months, conditions at the camp grow bleaker and more violent, as the plagues of society at large --- drugs, guns, gangs, racism, white supremacy --- play out on a smaller but more intense scale in this pressure cooker environment composed of those with the most needs and the fewest resources. In addition to Daphne and members of her family, portions of the novel are told from the perspectives of Rain, a devoted and experienced crisis manager in charge of the megashelter, and Tate, an insurance broker with an illicit side hustle, who sees in the camps an opportunity for a truly epic long con. Their narratives are interspersed occasionally with documentary materials --- news bulletins, memos, websites and entries in the historical record --- that provide context as well as glimpses of a fragile future beyond the hellish limbo that makes up most of the book.

At times, some elements --- particularly Daphne’s situation and its relationship to her husband --- stretch credulity, as necessary as they may be to the plot. That said, the family’s predicament and the ever-worsening situation at the camp (not to mention the outside world) plays out like a movie, the circumstances of which are perpetuated by a storm whose potential is all too real.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on July 29, 2022

The Displacements
by Bruce Holsinger

  • Publication Date: July 4, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books
  • ISBN-10: 0593189728
  • ISBN-13: 9780593189726