What If…

Alter

My stage plays back in high school always started with the question, “What if?” I think the whole genre of speculative fiction started with this question. One of my lingering hypotheticals is What if all modern creature comforts were taken away from the world and I had to survive by hunting for my own food, building a fire to keep warm, defending myself against zombies? Ok, maybe edit that last one to predators. The book, Alter, by Jeremy Robinson asked the same question (minus the zombies) and I’m glad I decided to listen to its answer.

Modern Man

The modern man has many characteristics we can all relate to:

  • A dependence on smart phones, the internet and other technologies like cars for traveling and high-tech kitchens for preparing food
  • We have houses to keep us safe from the elements, we lock our doors and windows to keep out predators seeking to steal our belongings or harm us.
  • We buy our food from grocery stores made by manufacturers who make it convenient for us to eat.
  • Most of us try to cram too many things into our day. We work at least 8 hours a day, we volunteer or find hobbies to fill in our extra hours.
  • Our pursuit of career goals, a lasting legacy or whatever we want to define ourselves by often overshadow what is really important in life.

Man Meet Jungle

Dr. Greg Zekser was a typical modern man. A general practitioner with a wife and a three-year-old daughter who he neglected in favor of his patients. He wanted to help others so he manages a soup kitchen, but that had not been enough. He volunteered to offer medical services to a never before contacted tribe deep in the Amazon jungle. On the way there his plane crashes, the two pilots he was traveling with dies and he is all alone in the jungle.

Man Must Adapt

What will you do to survive in the wild?

  • Will you feed a dead human being to a jaguar to save yourself from being eaten?
  • Will you kill men in their sleep to keep them from killing the woman who saved your life and taught you how to survive in the jungle?
  • Will you forget who you were before the jungle, forget the wife you love and the daughter you adore to keep yourself from going mad?
  • Will you agree to become a mythical beast to make sure the woman who has become the center of your world stays alive?

For Dr. Greg Zekser, the answer to all these questions was yes. He decided to devolve, to embrace his baser instincts to keep the pain of his loss from destroying him.

Man or Beast

Would you rather be a man or a beast? To Greg, the decision had been made to protect the woman he depended on – he was going to become a beast to save her.

When his goal was within reach, he discovers that his companion is pregnant with his son and the beast he means to become might not recognize the child as his. So Greg chooses to remain a man, to live with the woman he has grown to love, and the child he intends to raise better than he had his daughter.

But the beast who he was going to unseat as Mapenwari overrode his decision when she kills his family. His loss and his grief drives him to kill her and become the mythical beast who tribal members go to request vengeance killings.

He lives as this beast for a long time until he comes in contact with loggers from his world and the private investigator who his wife employed to find him. Hearing his name from the private investigator brought him back to himself – the modern man that he was.

Past Wife

While listening to this story, the wife he left in the US was always at the back of my mind – just as Greg tried to forget her and their daughter. She haunted his dreams and I often reflected on what it must be like in her shoes. How would she feel when she heard all that had happened to him, all the choices he made while separated from her.

When Greg found out that she never gave up on finding him in the four years he was lost, he was slain with shame for all that he did. She sold all their possessions and moved to Brazil to coordinate with local authorities.

What can I forgive?

At the very beginning of my own marriage, my husband and I had set an unbreakable rule. Infidelity would not be forgiven.

Greg’s wife never gave up on him while he fell in love with someone else – a woman who kept him alive, bore his child and died because the Mapenwari wanted to make him a monster.

He told her everything that happened, it took six months for their marriage to recover from his confession. But it did, his wife realized that she would rather have her husband back than to have him die in the jungle. He needed an anchor, a rock – maybe because women are emotionally tougher than men – but he needed to be unfaithful to survive.

And in the end, he needed to survive for his wife and his daughter – to get back home to them. Maybe, in this very extreme and rare case, I will forgive an infidelity too. Maybe.

An Unpredictable Survival Story

This story surprised me so many times. Its twists and turns, what will ultimately become of its main character. I was crying by the end of it.

The very last scene where I predicted what the main character’s wife said to her dead rival, it hit me hard emotionally. This was a beautifully written story, the author is definitely going on my favorite authors list.

Conclusion

This story had me laughing and crying. It made me walk in the footsteps of a man lost in the jungle.

The author even used this clever technique of shifting from first person to third person point of view to indicate his dissociation during the hardest moments in his time in the jungle. An artistic golden nugget that I may use in future stories.

It’s a book that will make you reflect on your own answers to its what-if questions. It also makes you question what it means to be human.

I loved this story and I would recommend it to all my friends – no matter what genre you enjoy reading.

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