The Incredible True Story of the Making of the Eve of Destruction was a book I didn’t expect to love so much, except I did. I got entirely caught up with the book on a character, story, and thematic level.
Arkansas, 1984: The town of Griffin Flat is known for almost nothing other than its nuclear missile silos. MAD—Mutually Assured Destruction—is a fear every local lives with and tries to ignore. Unfortunately that’s impossible now that film moguls have picked Griffin Flat as the location for a new nuclear holocaust movie, aptly titled The Eve of Destruction.
When sixteen-year-old Laura Ratliff wins a walk-on role (with a plus-one!) thanks to a radio call-in contest, she is more relieved than excited. Mingling with Hollywood stars on the set of a phony nuclear war is a perfect distraction from being the only child in her real nuclear family—which has also been annihilated. Her parents are divorced. Her mother has recently married one of the only African-American men in town. Her father, an officer in the Strategic Air Command, is absent…except when he phones at odd hours to hint at an impending catastrophe. But isn’t that his job?
Laura’s only real friend is her new stepbrother, Terrence. She picks him as her plus-one and manages to enrage both her fair-weather friends and film crew. (Now the script has to adjust for “another black.”) But that adjustment is nothing compared to what happens on set after the scripted nuclear explosion. Because nobody seems to know if a real nuclear bomb has detonated or not.
The Incredible True Story of the Making of the Eve of Destruction is a story told in a moment. Not in a single moment. But it’s located within a specific moment in history, 1984. When the cold war and fear of nuclear devastation is firmly rooted in the consciousness of the American public. Because of this, the book feels real and tangible. As if you could reach your hands into the pages and touch a fragment of history.
There are footnotes for those who weren’t teenagers in this time period. These are not only extremely helpful (even though I only needed about 75% of them), but they also give a sneak glimpse into the perspective of Laura. Laura is writing this book as a true account of her life, and the making of “The Eve of Destruction”. She is telling it with the explicit aim of providing a truthful account of her life. And the time period.
I really loved Laura’s style of narration. It balances humor, intelligence, and a genuine appreciation of knowledge. She is trying to make us understand this specific time frame. The fear, the recklessness, and the danger. While it is a historical fiction novel (from a not too long ago time period), it has all these elements of dangerous consequences and manipulation.
We are able to see her own fears played out on the pages. Her middle of the night terrors, her family gossip, and the moments that change history. All while full of intricate moments of every day life: high school jocks, chemistry lessons, and lunch tables. Laura is unabashed, spunky, and incredibly intelligent. I think she’s the type of person I would have been in high school. That, or friends with her.
Even though this past isn’t so distant to us, especially as someone who was an American teen, the world building is phenomenal. You can feel the terror. The way this specific moment has the public afraid to take a breath. Aware of the moment. The danger of crossing over, and the fear of what lies beyond. The Incredible True Story of the Making of the Eve of Destruction includes documents that further cements the world building. It remains commited to authenticity.
All while you can witness the public’s reaction to the fear of nuclear destruction. In some ways it’s used as a way to justify behavior. Whether that be reckless spending, or painting our walls white, there’s a distinct feeling in the air. A fear that there is no tomorrow – and so we shouldn’t worry about it because it will never come.
The nuclear family
One of the great thematic parallels in The Incredible True Story of the Making of the Eve of Destruction is the disaster within Laura’s nuclear family and the current climate. Her mother cheated on her father (who works in the American military) with a black man. While the detail of the man’s ethnicity doesn’t matter to Laura, it matters to the town. Her family becomes the source of scandal and gossip. Especially when Laura’s mother goes on to marry the man.
But the ways her family is coping with the spotlight and the fall out from this cataclysmic event is also telling. There’s a distinct feeling of hushed events. Implicit blame and ways certain behavior is excused without a word. So there’s a parallel between seeing the consequences of this event, and the tension in the air about the nuclear devastation.
I ended up not only really enjoying The Incredible True Story of the Making of the Eve of Destruction, but also appreciating the themes within. It was real and genuine. Everything from the lengths the city goes to welcome the film crew, to the racism within the film industry. All the way until the ending, when the line between reality is blurring and we aren’t sure if it’s real. Every moment has this surreal texture to it. Almost as if this could be the last real moment.