Novel Synopsis : In the wake of an unprecedented economic collapse and nationwide systems failure, the historian and high school principal Carson Waller finds himself jobless and adrift in a large East Coast city. He spends most days contemplating the dramatic history-in-the-making from the ever-shrinking security of his apartment. On the other side of the country, Beatrix Banks, a fair-trade activist, is similarly grounded, her global cause now radically circumscribed and somewhat circumspect. Grave personal loss initially brought them together, but it is the universal loss and devastation now surrounding them that sets in motion their separate journeys toward each other.
Amid escalating violence, Carson leaves his perch to begin chronicling history as it happens, walking west along the railroad tracks, toward Beatrix. He encounters an altered America, brought to life by a variety of characters and their stories of former lives and current survival. Meanwhile, Beatrix tends to the immediate issues of shelter, water, and food, slowly building community in a neighborhood she previously barely knew. Between them lies The Center, a mysterious destination advertised in a stream of broadcasts by an evangelical Christian cult promising “ascension” to those who make pilgrimages to the country's geographical middle. As Carson continues westward, unable to shake Beatrix from his mind, Beatrix and her neighbors work to ensure their own survival and present an alternative to the Ascensionists' irresistible, unfulfillable promises.