The Shelter Cycle by Peter Rock was read for the May meeting of the Critical Era bookclub. We’ll also be speaking with Peter about this book at the end of the month. I’m certain, like what has happened for us so many times before, is that after discussing the book with the author, it will become something much more than initially realized after closing the final pages. For me, while the The Shelter Cycle was very interesting, it still seemed quite unfinished and/or underdeveloped closing with a rather abrupt ending.
When this title was first circulated as the planned May selection and was accompanied by this book trailer, I think all of us at the Literary Hoarders were excited for it.
The Shelter Cycle is a fairly quick read, at only about 186 pages, and shares most of its story between Francine and Colville, two former members of the religious group/cult called the Church Universal and Triumphant.
Francine has completely distanced herself from the Church and we come by her pregnant with her first child and married to a man that has absolutely no idea of her former life and activities. Colville reappears in Francine’s life following the media frenzy surrounding the disappearance of a young girl living a few doors down from Francine and her husband, Wells.
Colville is Francine’s former best friend from the Church and the person whom she was told shared each other’s fate. When Colville bursts back into Francine’s life, she begins a rediscovery process and drives back to the shelter and pays a quick visit to the Messenger. The Messenger is obviously suffering from Alzheimer’s and speaks in circles to Francine. She does all of this without explaining it to or even letting Wells know. At the same time, Colville is also visiting the shelter, but is it during the same time as Francine? Colville seems to be returning to the Church’s teachings and lifestyle and preparing for his life inside the shelter on a more permanent basis. He’s seeing visions, he’s hearing things, and someone from the Church is guiding him along his future path – are they really happening?
Then, Francine returns home to have her baby. Colville kidnaps the child believing she’s the next Messenger. Alas, this kidnapping is short-lived. Colville returns the baby. The end. I’m serious. That’s the end.
Quotes taken from Peter Rock’s website do describe the quirkiness found in The Shelter Cycle:
“Pete Rock is not a normal novelist — he simply refuses to tell a story that is predictable or that permits us to put it aside … Certain writers are so unnervingly original their work secedes from our shared world and makes up a world of its own. With The Shelter Cycle it’s clear that Pete Rock’s world is the most singular and wondrous of them all.” -Susan Choi
“Peter Rock is marvelous at revealing both the insightful strangeness and the madness erring on the outskirts of civilization, and at showing with great sympathy how quickly we can slip from one to the other. A wonderfully humane book about the weirdnesses that make up people’s pasts, and the way they persist into the present.” -Brian Evenson
I am in agreement here, The Shelter Cycle is not a predictable story, and there is indeed strangeness between the pages. I did enjoy reading it however, it is always a great read when exploring these vastly strange and weird cults or organized groups lamenting and preparing for the world’s end. It’s always surprising to see the power and hold over so many that one person can have. It’s surprising to see how many hundreds of people prepared for years to live underground and the magnitude of the project and building of the shelter. However, it still read as though it were unfinished and Francine and Colville remained very underdeveloped in my opinion. Their entwined fates remained disturbed and broken. The abrupt ending does no favours to the reader in discerning how it really ends for Colville and Francine. A good read. But not much more than that.