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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A truly powerful and original post-apocalyptic story by Jess Row

I really don't know much about Jess Row though I'm sure I've read other stories by him (her?) in the New Yorker - will go back and see if I can figure out which - but whatever I may have thought of other Row works I have to say I was very impressed by and disturbed by Row's story in the current New Yorker, The Empties - New Yorker remains a a roll w/ many strong stories, some by debut or little-known authors, in recent issues. Ro'w The Empties is a post-apocalyptic story (the character banter as to the difference between post-apocalyptic and dystopian - our first hint that these are educated, intelligent characters), set somewhere in the near future in Vermont. Somehow for unexplained or unknown reasons the entire power grid of the U.S. (or is it the whole world? apparently not as there is a brief mention of Chinese flights) has gone down permanently. There are many post-apoc books and films - in fact, the characters discuss some of them in trying to make sense of their plight - and the grim and surprising realism of this story puts the others - like McCarthy's long trek through deserted landscape - in the shade: they seem very fictional compared with this story, which I think gets much more at the feeling of daily living in those conditions. We center on a 30ish female protagonist - I don't think we ever learn her name - and she seems to be living in what may once have been her parents' house? - there are many "unknowns" in this story - which has a reasonable amount of supplies, for the moment. She has relationships with a few different men, but other than one - a carpenter, I think, with whom she barters sex in return for services - it's unclear if any of the relationships are romantic. People seem to have pulled away from one another in their struggles to survive, or actually to endure: Row examines survival in precise and sometimes surprising ways - the barter, the value of cordwood, the smart Vermont self-sufficient folks who gerry-rig some charging stations, the issue of laundy and of garbage (reference to the title), most of all the need for food and the fear of on-coming winter. In an odd scene a stranger arrives in town with word of a convoy of black SUVs from the government, heading for Canada. Knowledge is scarce, and rumors fly - and by leaving various aspects of the story ambiguous and by giving no back story at all, Row puts us right in the mood of this dwindling community. The whole story makes us ask, wonder: How much to we take for granted? How thin is the thread holding us in place? Could we survive in such a world? Would we want to?

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