Saturday
Jan042014

One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses

By Lucy Corin


 

McSweeney's
August 2013
978-1938073335

 

Reviewed by Veronica Popp


 

Lucy Corin's One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses is an enduring and memorable read, weaving an intricate web of Salinger-esque aha-moment apocalypses. In general, an apocalypse means the end of the world. However, Corin's work describes apocalypse as a discovery or a revelation, big or small, which changes the protagonist forever.

The collection begins with "Eyes of Dogs," a stirring tale that confronts the bounds of traditional masculinity, warfare, and the happy ending. It starts strong, painting a picture of a war-torn nation and an embittered soldier, "raw from encounters with the enemy, high on release, walking down the road with no money." There are two stories going on concurrently. In one tale, while the soldier tries to gain money from an old woman, he succeeds and marries a princess and lives in happiness. In another, he meets a girl he used to like in high school and takes her home. When the soldier awakens, he has no money, only ash, leading him to conclude that, like the dogs he sees on his trek, he is merely waiting for someone to fill his bowl. This beginning is ominous and it foreshadows the darkness ahead in Corin's other stories.

The first apocalypse takes the reader to the produce aisle in a grocery store, where the protagonist has a realization that after the apocalypse is a new beginning. The final apocalypse takes place on a hill where humans and dinosaurs live and mate as stars descend upon the dying Earth.

Some of the recurring images of the apocalypses are motherhood, love, death, and dating. In "The Cycle of Life," a woman feeling a biological urge has a baby, and in a twist of dramatic irony, changes her mind, kills it, and then considers doing it all over again, realizing she has more options. The apocalypses initially begin as fresh starts, as claimed in the first apocalypse, aptly titled "Fresh." However, they quickly downgrade into depressing reminders of the bestial qualities of humanity. This is clear in "Funeral," which focuses on the death of a beloved political leader, but ends on the note of the oncoming, hysterical crowd violence.  

Corin's apocalypses contain no good or evil. These vignettes do not contain last minute rescues, nor are they meditations on the cruelty of life. Instead, Corin's apocalypses focus on the morally ambiguous and confusing aspects of modern day life. A standout is "Baby Alive!" Written with the structure of a film summary, blurbs and reviews are satirically parodied. This fake film delves into reality TV and torture porn, featuring a murderer who targets the "stars" of Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant. This film is typically something that would show up on Lifetime or MTV. Corin's story is an accurate representation of an IMDB film page as well as a comment on our short attention span as a nation. The final review encapsulates our current mindset: "I remember that doll my friend had it! Gross! Also the teen moms need to get a life! But now they're dead!"

Where Corin really shines is in between the apocalypses. Her two coming of age tales, "Madmen" and "Godzilla versus the Smog Monster," both profile what it means to grow up when the world is collapsing. "Madmen" thrusts the reader into an alternate reality where boys and girls, at the onset of puberty, choose a madman to escort them through the transition to adult life. The goal of this helper system is to cure the madmen. This ritual is similar to picking out a dog from the pound; the parents and child sit in the waiting room and leaf through magazines.

The female protagonist deals with her overbearing mother and her submissive father, hoping for a different life. "Or is like everyone really does end up with one of four kinds of cars and one of four kinds of houses and one of four kids you met in junior high?" she asks. She first chooses a female madman. Her mother rejects her choice. Eventually, after dealing with the physical changes of her first menstrual period, the narrator successfully chooses a male madman. Her life becomes eternally changed; with this choice of madman, she confronts her mother's mental issues and her own challenges of being a woman in this new world. Finally, alone with her madman, she ponders her first choice in her new world.

"Godzilla versus the Smog Monster" focuses on the burning of California. The burning takes place within a dystopian backdrop of suburban modernity through the perspective of the fourteen-year-old narrator, Patrick. His life is common; both of his parents work. In fact, the evidence of their existence lies within their briefcases, mere material items, "these abbreviated versions of them, like sentries."

He craves some rebellion, some interest, and he finds it within the burning of California; the destruction of the Golden State is what his generation will remember. Running parallel to this story is the copy of Godzilla versus the Smog Monster he finds in his father's sweater drawer. The smog monster is the personification of wanting and oncoming sexual maturity. The smog monster becomes Sara, Patrick's first crush, a young neighborhood girl who leaves for the vestiges of California, which Corin describes as "a heaving, flattened, blowing, billowing mass of ash and soot and toxicity." Both teenagers seek change. While Patrick chooses to stay, Sara's flight into the unknown land intrigues him for the rest of his life. His wanting continues.

From pages to phrases, One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses shows Corin to be a pioneer of short fiction; each story is lovingly and meticulously detailed until its magnificent end.