*The debut novel by the author of THE ORPHAN MASTER'S SON: winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2013
After trashing his cherry '72 Corvette, illegally breaking into an ancient burial site, and snacking on 12,000-year-old popcorn, Hank Hannah finds that he's inadvertently unleashed the apocalypse. Hank, a professor of anthropology back in the days when there were still co-eds to ogle and now one of only twelve humans still alive on earth, decides to record the last days of human civilization for whomever - or whatever - might replace us.
An archeological find sets off an apocalyptic epidemic in this first novel by Johnson (Emporium), an erratic, overstuffed satire that tracks the antics of a South Dakota academic. Anthropology professor Hank Hannah studies the Clovis people, a prehistoric tribe of hunter-gatherers. His theory is that their hunting habits helped kill off 35 species of large mammals. The discovery of a Clovis arrowhead helps substantiate his claim, but disaster strikes when Hannah and two graduate students, publicity hound Brent Eggers and formidable Trudy Labelle, try to dig up the remains of a Clovis male. The police appear and Hannah is arrested for assaulting the officer who defiles the grave site. His stint at a luxury low-security prison, Club Fed, is interrupted by the outbreak of a deadly epidemic, transmitted from pigs to humans and triggered when Eggers and Labelle use the Clovis arrowhead to kill a pig. The prehistoric contagion litters the Midwest with dead bodies, ushering in a bleak new age. Johnson's fertile imagination produces plenty of innovative speculation about the connection between prehistoric and modern customs, and Hannah's bumbling charm can be endearing. But wading through the chaff of the unfocused narrative including an ineffective romantic subplot in which Hannah woos a Russian botany professor is an arduous task. Johnson shows some of the outrageous flair here that made the stories in Emporium a critical success, but his elaborate concoction sags under its own weight. 5-city author tour.