CASTAWAY by James Gould Cozzens
Once a darling of the American literary scene, James Gould Cozzens is all but forgotten now. By all accounts he was, to couch it in the vernacular, a total shit. It’s a shame, really, because Castaway is an absolute belter that deserves to be widely read almost a century after it was first published.
Mr. Lecky is the only survivor of an unspecified event that has entirely decimated New York. Taking refuge in a large department store, he is surrounded by everything he could ever need. Such abundance, however, is overwhelming and he quickly succumbs to the isolation. Paranoia sets in. Which is when, far off in the distance, he sees another man. A game of cat and mouse ensues but it is short lived. Cozzens is mostly interested in demonstrating how quickly an ordinary person can be stripped of their humanity.
It is strange to consider just how much Castaway presages: the post-apocalyptic visions of Cormac McCarthy and Margaret Atwood, sure, but also the industrial hellscapes of JG Ballard (I was most reminded of Concrete Island and High Rise), and even video games like The Last of Us. A spare, tense and brutal little masterpiece.
Castaway by James Gould Cozzens
Random House, 1934