- Picking My Madmen
Lucy Corin’s One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses comes wrapped in praise. Likened to Paley and Dickinson, applauded by Louise Gluck and Kelly Link, Corin earns these accolades again in her third book, a perfectly-written collection that will keep critics busy analyzing it for decades. To write a few pages about it here is simply to do it an injustice.
This book is delightfully free of grossly catastrophic violence, march-to-the-sea plotting, and gurgling, lurching, dying sore-crusted humans. Instead, by claiming 100+ apocalypses, Corin diminishes the aspect of The Apocalypse, and focuses on the searing facts of life for families, girls, artists, husbands, cyclists, lovers, dogs, all of whom anticipate, then endure, varying degrees of devastation. Though easily accessible via clear prose and the use of familiar tropes, the fairy tale/the post-apocalyptic journey, the fabulist what if, the realistic narrative, and an original one hundred unrelated micro-fictions that successfully fuse to form a novella (my term), this book of four pieces is for thoughtful readers who recognize personal Armageddon as the most difficult catastrophes to negotiate and survive.
The lead story, “Eyes of Dogs,” follows the post-apocalyptic script of starvation, dust, and grime. A soldier aiming for home meets a witch, possibly his mother, who sends him down a rabbit hole with peculiar instructions, life or death implied. What elevates this story is not the sudden appearance of a sidebar optional ending but the quality of the author’s intellect in developing the beautiful, surprising yet common quest. The soldier’s “mind cleared of everything except the idea of money.” Later, the soldier believes “Cash . . . suggested endless possibility anchored in safety.” But will money save anyone?
The next story, “Madmen,” begins, “The day I got my period, my mother and father took me to pick my madman.” This startling premise hints at a wild pandemonium to come. At the asylum, the family “shops” the cages of available mad people by taking time to read the case history advertisements. These descriptions are as horrific as the premise is bizarre. Yet in a book that is both studiedly efficient and full, this section runs on too long. The energy exists in the animosity between the mother and daughter and once a compromise is reached, “Madmen” deflates as it progresses.
The marvelous “Godzilla Versus The Slog Monster” is a traditional, evocative, boy-coming -of-age narrative, complete with compelling characters and an active apocalypse. Readers who prefer these elements in their stories might begin the book here. This story underscores the confusion we feel when we watch a disaster unfold on television. What is the proper response when an entire coast is bombed? Here, young Patrick, astonished to find himself safe, articulates this dilemma:
California is burning, the fire gobbling Eureka, all that marijuana up in smoke, people and animals are dying, the air is poisoned, the ocean is boiling, fishes making for Hawaii as fast as their flippers will carry them, rock tops exploding from sea cliffs like missiles, and he feels cozy, trying to figure out if maybe he’s attracted to Sara.
If we are safely ensconced in our comforters like Patrick’s parents are, watching a screen, do the disasters of the distant unfortunate become meaningless?
One Hundred Apocalypses does not answer that question. Instead this long piece delves deeper into private fear. What would happen if the/an apocalypse happens? If this novella was a fulcrum but was turned upside down to resemble a cut diamond with its many facets, reflective surfaces, and angles of vision, the point, dead center, is the short story “Audience.” In this story, the narrator and her family load the station wagon, presumably in preparation for evacuation, when she thinks of the rocking chair, which takes her back to the raw memory of her mother rocking and talking to her as if the girl is anyone. In the middle of the tale, the mother, after documenting her own miserable childhood, tells of the Holocaust. Though the family is not Jewish...