But a friend was enthusiastic about this one, and said it was different. There's a traveling theater and music troupe; there's an insane religious cult; there's a dreadful flu that kills 99% of humanity in the space of a few weeks; there are scattered settlements among the abandoned cars; and there's a good amount of pre-apocalyptic story about people who are or are somehow associated with the post-A cast of characters. The timeline bounces around a lot.
So what's different about it, and why five stars? For one thing, there's a lot of art in it - Shakespeare, classical music, and the comic book that's set on Station Eleven in space, not to mention the movie star world of one of the characters. There's an appreciation for the things we take for granted; not just the big things but the ordinary daily life stuff we hardly notice. A message about skimming across life without paying attention, buried in smartphones and speaking trite office jargon to each other, runs through the pre-A segments. It spans a period of 20 years after the flu plus an undefined time before, and the progression through breakdown of civilization to what comes next over that long period seemed plausible.
The spirit is hopeful, on the whole. I think that might be one reason I, at least, lost interest in dystopia and post-apocalypse: I stopped wanting to read anything that was going to make me feel hopeless and miserable. And the writing itself is masterful; it pulled me into the world of the book and never bumped me out.
I'm glad I read it.