I am seldom put off by unusual, outrageous or borderline-offensive fiction, but The Shelter Cycle leaves me scratching my head as to the dintention. The novel opens with a missing nine-year-old girl in Boise, Idaho. Neighbors Francine and Wells Davidson join the search two days after the girl's disappearance. When Wells answers a knock on the door, it is to admit Colville Young, who claims he is Francine's childhood friend. Eight months pregnant, Francine immediately recognizes the young man she played with as a child and had even imagined marrying one day.
Colville and Francine are the children of families belonging to the Church Universal and Triumphant, a congregation of believers gathered in the wilds of Montana who devote all their energies and resources to preparing for the end of the world, prophesied by the Messenger to occur in the late 1980s. To that end, hundreds of members work together to construct elaborate underground bunkers, with electric generators and sufficient supplies to last for seven years, the period of time agreed upon before emerging into a planet they expect will have been decimated.
When the end fails to materialize by the appropriate date, some believers remain. Some begin again elsewhere, and others leave, like Francine, to begin new lives. Never communicating the details of her past with her husband, Francine has kept these memories to herself, treasuring those years as the happiest in her life, years in which her family shared living quarters with Colville's family, when two friends explored Montana's natural wilderness while fathers and mothers labored over preparations for the end. The rituals and prayers of the congregation served as a further bond, chanting that created a sanctuary against the intrusion of the devil's temptations, the voices of supplicants spreading a blanket of peace, calling upon the spirit of God to protect them. These are potent memories, not easily dislodged from the psyche or shared with a man who hasn't lived the experiences—even a husband.
Pregnancy has awakened some primal yearning in Francine—the urge to connect her unborn child with her family of origin, though both parents are dead, the language of ritual returning, a mantra against fear, the incantations of childhood warding off evil and embracing light. Colville's appearance is a spark that ignites Francine's passion to meld the two parts of her existence, though she fails to articulate any of this to Wells, only communicating with Colville, a link they once thought forged forever. Wells is forgotten in Francine's frantic need to exhume what she has buried.
It is harder to interpret Colville's motives—and this is where I question Rock's intentions—or what drives his bizarre behavior. He monitors the Davidsons comings and goings like a furtive spy, moving stealthily from one motel to another in Boise, fashioning outdoor wear and gathering supplies for a return to the Heart (Montana), where the family compound is buried. From the time he arrives at Francine's doorstep, brandishing a newspaper clipping of the missing girl, claiming it is a sign, to his conversations with the younger sister of the missing girl or the voices clamoring for attention in his head, Colville is the unknown, the unpredictable factor.
Eventually, both Francine and Colville are called back to the source of their beginnings, each separately and for their own reasons. Francine's efforts seem more innocent. Colville is directed by his voices, or guides from the past, moving silently through the abandoned bunkers, waiting for instructions, unsure of what he is expected to do next. Forgotten, Wells waits. It is challenging enough to imagine a religion that draws believers into the mass end-of-world complicity, and even more of a stretch to make sense of Colville's actions and the consequences he sets in motion for Francine and Wells by the novel's ending. I'm sure there is a message here, but given its presentation, I prefer to remain among the ignorant. That's a lot of words to admit I don't understand the plot of this novel.