- She’s taking a bottle regularly for over a week.
- She can roll over.
- She’s sleeping in her own room and still through the night (though there’s been some 4:30 am wakeups now).
- She smiles a ton.
- She makes new noises, a favorite for a while was something close to an espresso machine.
- She’s drooling. And drooling. And drooling.
Still, as he settled into a pirated TV show on his laptop, the thought of a crowbar sliding beneath the latch and popping out the screws brought him pleasure. ∞
Latest parenting challenge: getting baby to drink from a bottle. It’s been a struggle. She took to it right away, then we travelled for a few days with no bottle-feeds, and now it’s like she’s a mini Bartleby, the Scrivener. She’d prefer not to. ∞
Published in the October 27, 2014 issue of The New Yorker, “The Empties” by Jess Row is a postapocalyptic (or is it dystopian?) short story set in the Northeast. What grabbed me about this story was in the fourth paragraph, where Row’s characters step back and view their own narrative. What story are we in? What’s happening?
Anyway, Quentin’s saying, I was down at the Grange listening to these guys arguing about the difference between dystopia and apocalypse. Can you believe that? One of them was saying that we were living in a dystopian novel, and the other guy, big bearded dude, from the West Rats Collective, said, No, dystopia means an imaginary place where everything is exactly wrong, and what we’re living in is a postapocalyptic, prelapsarian kind of thing, you know, a return to nature after the collapse of society as we knew it.
And I must have been three or four shots in—we were drinking Wayne Peters’s sweet-potato vodka—because I said, Look, kiddos, the truth is neither, because we have no idea what might happen, the infrastructure is still basically in place, especially if people from certain collectives hadn’t stripped out the copper over in White River—
—but my point is really that dystopian and postapocalyptic narratives are narratives, that is, stories: things that are inherently invented or collated ex post facto. Narratives are static. Real life is, is—
The point is, we need to just let all that shit go, because, call it End Times or whatever you want, things are different now. None of the old endings played out, did they? So we have to imagine new endings. Hence the possibility for hope.
So, immediately, Row let’s us know he’s familiar with this genre and willing to pull away from the standard script, but does he follow through? With further references to Cormac McCarthy, he’s aiming his sights high; but ultimately, the story doesn’t deliver. What starts out strong ends up as another post-apocalyptic, disaster story that aims for some literary quality (literary meaning complex sentences and characters who seem like people), but that’s been done by Cormac McCarthy in The Road, Margaret Atwood in the MaddAdam Trilogy, and to an extent in comic books like Y: The Last Man and The Walking Dead, which may not have the literary angle, but do have an original storyline. In “The Empties” the power is out. That’s what leads to this collapse. It’s more benign than Ebola, Zombies, or a nuclear attack. But it’s like the first pitch of a baseball game, all that follows is the same. People are trying to survive after the collapse of civilization as we know it. Where’s the originality that Ross hints at on page one? These next two sentences point toward originality, or at least, create vivid, interesting images.
There was a girl, she remembers, who went up on the grassy hillside behind the Montessori school with a basket of scraps and a pair of scissors and began re-creating her Pinterest page, squares of bright cloth for each jpeg, strips of blue sheet for the tool bar and browser frame.
I love this image of a person coping and going through some technological withdraw in a such a delusional manner.
This isn’t science fiction, Quentin says, because if it were we’d have the answers, we’d know what happened.
And, while this second sentence states there will be no answers, it doesn’t set itself apart from The Road, which also had no answers, but plopped the reader down in a terrible present.
Perhaps, though, the originality is in the form of a disguised death. There’s a dreamy quality to the narration and one can easily imagine lucidity slipping away for the main character. The conversations are like the light from stars. By the time they reach the reader, we don’t realize they happened in the past. How much time has passed? Who said what? It isn’t until the end that we realize the character with whom she’d been talking to is dead. Quentin flows into Nathan and the reader readily confuses the two. There are no transitions or explanations; these are remembrances. Part of the narrator’s writing process. I enjoyed that aspect of the story, but then the true ending seemed to scale back. Outsiders approach the town. Are they good or bad? Is the world that black and white? We don’t know. We’re left with Quentin’s hope and the assault rifle slung across the narrator’s knees.
What were your thoughts on this story? What aspects of the story worked well and, or where did you think the story could be improved?
We thought about capturing the headlines from Michiko’s birth, the current events playing out. But we didn’t. Or, at least, we haven’t. There’s no Apollo moon landing. There are riots in Ferguson, Missouri. There is war, there is always war, in the Middle East. Executions. Ebola. War in Ukraine. To say, this is the time in which you were born, seems wrong. To welcome this new life into our lives, to bring her into the world, I want the world to match how I feel. That moment of witnessing life being born is amazing. While all of these events are happening across the world, it’s the media perspective. If I could record the headlines from individual lives, what would they look like?
“Stranger held the door open for me.”
“My son made it safely to Alaska; sleeping well now.”
“Kissed him for the first time. Still smiling.”
“Watched the sunset in Yosemite.”
“Road my bike without training wheels!”
“Fell in love.”
Those are the headlines I want to capture. Sure, they also skew toward a certain perspective, but it’s one I want to see. The small triumphs of everyday people. The personal stories. The ups, and the downs, as well. ∞
Came across this song from All Songs Considered. Really love it.
It was a long day yesterday for little Stella. By bedtime, she decided sleep was overrated and it was time for fun.
Another 2 mile jog completed this morning. Felt easier physically, but a little more taxing mentally. Not sure why. ∞
Time becomes different as a parent. Michiko is six and a half weeks old. She changes each day. A weekend arrives, it’s like coming up for breath from the river of dog walks, work, dinner, a few hours in the evening together, and sleep. Then it’s the week again, a blur, moments strung together like blinking while riding the teacups at a fair: lights, people, movement, shut your eyes, a different snapshot, similar but not the same. It’s a pattern, a motion. What happened to this week? Where did it go? It’s in the yawns of a baby girl, the smell of laundry hung up to dry, walks when the sun is either rising or falling in the horizon. ∞