‘The Revivalists’ author describes his post-apocalyptic novel about a happy marriage
Christopher M. Hood’s debut novel, “The Revivalists,” takes place in a post-apocalyptic America that’s been devastated by a virus, killing most of the population, and rendering the nation’s infrastructure useless. It’s a terrifying novel about survival in a world that’s doing its best to make humanity extinct — but at its heart, it’s a love story.
The novel focuses on Bill and Penelope, a married couple who drive from Westchester County, New York, to Bishop, California, to rescue their daughter, Hannah, who’s joined a cult. They haven’t been able to see their child, a college student at UC Irvine, since the pandemic shut down the country. (Hood will appear with writers Anna Hogeland and Rhoda Huffey at UC Irvine on Oct. 28 at 5 p.m.)
“I have a wife and a daughter, both of whom I love very, very much, and I have a great marriage, and I wanted to write about that,” Hood says, from his home in Nyack, New York, on the origin of his novel. “I feel like we live in a sort of ‘Revolutionary Road’-style literary universe where there’s a lot of really terrible marriages, and I wanted to write about a good one. Sure, they fight. Sure, it’s not easy, but ultimately they’re really good for each other and they really love each other.”
Hood began work on “The Revivalists” during the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic — the opposite of the escapism that led many to embrace, say, comfort-watching old sitcoms or getting lost in jigsaw puzzles. But despite the dark subject matter, the process of writing was far from traumatic for Hood.
“‘The Revivalists’ is dark, but honestly it was really joyful to write,” Hood says. “There’s some humor in it and a lot of scenes that I really just had fun writing about.”
Part of the fun was the research Hood conducted while writing a novel that takes place almost entirely on the road, as Bill and Penelope travel across the American heartland. Hood used Google Street Maps to plot out the couple’s course from New York to California, but he also had another source: “The Odyssey.” Every chapter of Hood’s book corresponds to an episode from Homer’s epic poem. Hood was careful to avoid the pitfalls that plague some authors of road novels, though.
“I was super aware that it could feel like, here’s their wacky adventure here, and then their wacky adventure there,” he says. “That would make the book fall apart for sure. So for me there’s the road, the literal road they’re on, but what I was really thinking about a lot is the road of their marriage.”
Hood has led a literary life for a long time, but he’s new to the world of book publishing. The New Jersey native earned his bachelor’s degree in English from Haverford College and taught for a while before earning his MFA in creative writing from UC Irvine. Having a book accepted for publication after years of trying feels like, he says, “banging on a door for a long time” and finally having the people on the other side say “Come on in.”
The process of preparing for his book’s release has been an exciting one, he says, but it’s also led to some anxiety.
“I’ve had friends [publish books], and I sort of wondered, Why aren’t they just happy all the time?” he says with a laugh. “And now I feel like calling them up and saying, ‘I am so sorry. I just did not understand how nerve-racking this process is.”
He hasn’t had time to worry too much, though — he’s keeping busy at his day job at New York’s prestigious Dalton School, where he’s taught English and creative writing for almost 15 years. And while he’s obviously excited to see his new book hit shelves, it’s his students that inspire his most vocal enthusiasm.
“I’m teaching young artists, and even though I’m 48, I’m innocent enough to really believe that making art matters,” he says. “They’re growing up to be profoundly decent human beings in a world that seems to value that less and less.”
Hood, as the head of the school’s creative writing program, leads workshops for the students, and says he’s impressed with the kindness they show one another. He also appreciates their love of reading — something their generation, he says, doesn’t get enough credit for.
“When you tell people you’re a high school teacher, often the reaction is people saying, ‘Oh, I don’t know how you do it. Kids these days, they’re always on their phones. They don’t read at all.’ And I’m like, ‘Kids are the only ones who read. Are you kidding me? Young adult is the biggest growing publishing market. And who’s always on their phones? Every adult I see on the Metro-North. Every one.’”
Hood’s students know that he’s about to publish a book, but he chooses not to make a big deal about it — he’s got other lessons to teach.
“I have a book now, but that’s not what makes me a writer,” he says. “I tell them all the time, ‘You know who’s a writer? People who write, period. We’re doing the same thing. I’m a little older, I’ve been doing it a little longer, but those are not differences in kind, those are differences in degree. We all are facing the blank page, and we’re all trying to figure out how to fill it. We all are facing insecurities. And you’ve got to try to normalize all that stuff.”