The Last One, by Alexandra Oliva****

thelastoneThose that occasionally hole up on their days off and binge on reality TV shows will love this book; those that don’t will love it too.  This reviewer has never watched a single episode of “Survivor” or any other reality-survival show, and yet once I began reading this novel, it elbowed aside all the other books I was reading till I was done. Thanks go to Net Galley and Random House Ballantine for the DRC, which I received in exchange for this honest review.

In an interesting twist, readers are told up front that part way through this competition, most of the other contestants, along with the cameraman, producer, and a number of other support staff that would ordinarily be in charge of extricating her or announcing her victory, will die. Our protagonist, whom the show’s producers call “Zoo” because she has a job involving animals in real life, won’t know that the show is over, because the people in charge of telling her will be gone.  And so the suspenseful aspect of this story for readers is at what point does the competition actually end, and once we are sure it’s over, when will Zoo figure it out? What will she find when she finally makes it home, assuming she does?

 

The production team tries to get everyone out, but they’re on Solo Challenges and widespread. There were contingency emergency plans in place, but not for this. It’s a spiral like that child’s toy; a pen on paper, guided by plastic. A pattern, then something slips and—madness. Incompetency and panic collide. Good intentions give way to self-preservation.

 

Oliva is a champ when it comes to examining media and its effect on the thinking of ordinary people living in the real world, and in this case, even in a virtual one. And as the competition begins, we see how real people are being warped and cast as characters for a viewing audience; a sympathetic  contestant’s ungentle words during a stressful moment are edited out; an introverted, serious individual is billed as arrogant, and so his small acts of kindness will be cut from the final film.

It’s an unreal sort of reality programming, stories retold to make them more saleable to the viewing audience. Oliva nails the way that mainstream media manipulates our thinking; it’s one reason I watch so little television, but it’s not a book that will ruin your favorite shows for you.

Those looking for an absorbing beach read or a thriller to curl up with at the family cabin could do a lot worse.  This guilty pleasure becomes available to the public July 12, 2016.

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