In a near future where climate change has severely affected weather and agriculture, the North End of an unnamed city has long been abandoned in favor of the neighboring South End. Aside from the scavengers steadily stripping the empty city to its bones, only a few thousand people remain, content to live quietly among the crumbling metropolis. Many, like the narrator, are there to try to escape the demons of their past. He spends his time observing and recording the decay around him, attempting to bury memories of what he has lost.
But it eventually becomes clear that things are unraveling elsewhere as well, as strangers, violent and desperate alike, begin to appear in the North End, spreading word of social and political deterioration in the South End and beyond. Faced with a growing disruption to his isolated life, the narrator discovers within himself a surprising need to resist losing the home he has created in this empty place. He and the rest of the citizens of the North End must choose whether to face outsiders as invaders or welcome them as neighbors.
The City Where We Once Lived is a haunting novel of the near future that combines a prescient look at how climate change and industrial flight will shape our world with a deeply personal story of one man running from his past. In lean, spare prose, Eric Barnes brings into sharp focus questions of how we come to call a place home and what is our capacity for violence when that home becomes threatened.
Eric Barnes is the author of two previous novels, Shimmer and Something Pretty, Something Beautiful. He has published more than forty short stories in Prairie Schooner, North American Review, The Literary Review, Best American Mystery Stories, and other publications. By day, he is publisher of newspapers in Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga that cover business, politics, the arts, and more. On Fridays, he hosts a news talk show on his local PBS station. In the past, he was a reporter and editor in Connecticut and New York. Years ago he drove a forklift in Tacoma, Washington, and then Kenai, Alaska, worked construction on Puget Sound, and, many years ago, he graduated from the MFA writing program at Columbia University. He lives in Memphis, Tennessee.
“Barnes has constructed an intricate apocalyptic world that frighteningly mirrors present-day reality.”—Shelf Awareness, starred review
“In bare-bones prose that is subtly affecting, the novel is a haunting portrait of why people form bonds and the many ways those bonds can be torn apart. . . . A story of adaption and the power of the human spirit.”—Foreword
"Barnes’s violent, haunted, and creepy novel about failing societies will attract readers of dark, postapocalyptic fiction."—Library Journal
“An all too realistic novel that could easily be ripped from future newspaper headlines, The City Where We Once Lived is a compelling read from first page to last and reveals author Eric Barnes to have a genuine flair for narrative driven storytelling. . . . Very highly recommended.”—Midwest Book Review
“Exceptional . . . From the first pages all the way to the last, I was drawn in. I have read some dystopian future books in the past, but The City Where We Once Lived stands out among them."—Seattle Book Review
"Barnes's new novel is a rare and truly original work: a hard-edged fable, tender and unflinching, in which a man's descent and renewal is mirrored by his city. An eerie, beautifully written, and profoundly humane book."—Emily St. John Mandel, author of National Book Award finalist Station Eleven
"Written in a gorgeously spare language that perfectly reflects the dystopic future this novel depicts, The City Where We Once Lived kept me enthralled throughout. At its core is a deep and admirable compassion for humanity."—Chris Offutt, author of Country Dark
"A stunningly-written tale of loss and grief. The stark beauty of Barnes's prose will pull you into a post-apocalyptic wasteland that is at once utterly foreign and hauntingly familiar. The City Where We Once Lived is a riveting journey through devastation, but one that delivers a world where seeds of hope emerge in the unlikeliest of places. It is a story of our time, but also timeless. It is a story of one man, but a story that speaks to each of us and for all of us. It is a story that will stay with you long after you've turned the last page." –Lindsay Moran, national bestselling author of Blowing My Cover
“An intensely envisioned work of dystopian realism and American desolation, beautifully drawn from the slow-motion apocalypse of everyday life.”—Christopher Brown, author of Tropic of Kansas
“Eric Barnes's The City Where We Once Lived is a most original novel, surprising and fierce—a dazzling puzzle of grief and utopia, dystopia and hope.”—Minna Zallman Proctor, author of Landslide
"Spare and elegant, this novel brings into breathtaking relief a frighteningly recognizable future. Eric Barnes shows us what it means to inhabit—a building, a city, a life. And also what it means to be inhabited—by memories, by ghosts, and maybe, just maybe, by hope." —Elise Blackwell, author of The Lower Quarter and Hunger
"A controlled burn of a book, full of horror and sadness and, once the fire dies down, the beauty of new growth. In the tradition of J. G. Ballard and Margaret Atwood, Eric Barnes gives us a dying neighborhood of outcasts who save the world that has cast them out. Just the book we need in these dystopian times."—John Feffer, author of Splinterlands
“With deft prose and a discerning voice, The City Where We Once Lived is a taut examination of the archetypes and rituals that form the landscape of community.”—Courtney Miller Santo, author of Three Story House and The Roots of the Olive Tree
"This novel stuck with me. The voice is appealingly quiet, the atmosphere dreamlike, but the premise of poisoned ground, weather gone haywire, and a government that has thrown up its hands, is frighteningly real. The most remarkable thing is that even after hope is gone, kindness survives."—James Whorton, author of Approximately Heaven and Angela Sloan
“Barnes has constructed an intricate apocalyptic world that frighteningly mirrors present-day reality. Through stark yet intimate prose, Barnes explores themes of separatism and displacement and how the lenses we look through are often distorted by lack of connection and empathy. He offers a cautionary tale about a world that feels a hair's-breadth away.”—Malcolm Avenue Review
“Taut with timely themes of climate change, waning empathy and lack of community, the story hits scarily close to home.”—Pop Culture Nerd
“A highly recommended look at a dying city that is part dystopian and part premonition.”—She Treads Softly
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