I just did not feel the love for this book that so many others have expressed. It's another dystopian tale, the setup being a devastating flu pandemic that wipes out 99% of the earth's population in a matter of days. (It didn't help that I had some flu-like symptoms while reading.) Of the few that are left, there's a band of actors and musicians that form the Traveling Symphony, traveling around what appears to be the Great Lakes area, performing classical music and Shakespeare plays for the little hamlets that have sprung up.
The book meanders through several people's points of view, all of them tangentially related to Arthur Leander, a famous actor who dies of a heart attack while performing King Lear in Toronto just as that city's hospitals are receiving the first flu victims. We've got his first ex-wife, Miranda; Kirsten, a young girl who had a small part in King Lear; Clark, his lifelong friend; Jeevan, a former paparazzi and current EMT trainee who tries to save Arthur; and we have Arthur himself.
The problems with this structure are many. Arthur's life ends just as the flu strikes. We get parts of his life in flashback, but seriously, he's just another Hollywood star who can't keep it in his pants and wrecks several marriages. We're given nothing to make us really care about his backstory.
The narrative is back-and-forth in time, and I can't help but wonder if a more straightforward line would have driven more tension. As it is, we find out very early on who survived and what they're doing, so there's no mystery there. There's a subplot involving a bad guy called The Prophet, but it's a strangely muted storyline. We never see enough of him to really feel his threat.
Most of the characters we follow are just not that interesting. Every once in a while, we get a glimpse of a secondary character who seems much more interesting, like the clarinetist who hates Shakespeare and wants to write her own play, showing the way they live now, but she drops the idea. Or the Prophet himself--it would have been fascinating to see how he came to be. But no, we get fairly straightforward people who really aren't that interesting.
Worse, the author doesn't really deal with how people live. There are references to people going hunting for deer and such, but we're led to believe that there's an airport housing over 300 people, feeding them on meat alone. Seems odd. After 20 years, wouldn't there have been some attempts at gardening? And if they're in the Great Lakes area, how are they surviving winter? Seems like more would have moved south. There's a convoluted storyline about an obscure comic book (from which the book gets its title), and it's labored into being useful.
There are some good bits. Clark, one of the survivors at the airport, creates a museum of objects from the pre-flu days: laptops, iPhones, newspapers. And he and another character have a hilarious discussion while reading from a corporatespeak-laden document, reflecting on that as if it's a foreign language (which it is, in this context).
But there aren't enough of these, and not enough detail about how these people have managed to survive all these years. If you're going dystopian, you have to sell it, and there's not enough here to buy.