Lucy Corin is a writer whose work presents difficulties. Her newest book, One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses, from McSweeney's Books, contains three short stories and a series of 100 linked prose pieces that range in length from several pages to a single sentence.
Her writing is littered with obstructions. The narrative is submerged. The stories don't connect. Despite the dense prose, plots thin instead of thicken. Her characters are like sea creatures that occasionally breach the surface but then just as quickly disappear into the depths.
In some of the prose fragments she calls "apocalypses," it feels as if they have a single cataclysmic—yet unnamed—event in common. In other stories, the apocalypse is clearly a metaphor for something more mundane but no less catastrophic.
"Got there and the ground was covered with bodies. Lay down with everyone and looked at the sky, bracing for the explosions." Sounds horrific, but the title of this apocalypse is "July Fourth." Are we in a horror movie or a teen drama?
For the longest time, I wasn't sure. In fact, I was fairly certain I wasn't "getting it" and was carried along by the strength of Corin's prose, which is rendered with such startling urgency that I'd read some passages over and over.
"Nothing is the same outside the body, and you are putting your body into stuff that is not you all day and all night with the force of your will, more and more the more you age, beaming onto the world like headlights from outer space or another epoch."
In most narratives, meaning is a tilted floor upon which the parts of the story slide. In Corin's apocalypses, there's no tilt, no propulsion toward a cohesive truth. To put it another way, the stories serve as cylinders in an engine that roars but doesn't really go anywhere. It's up to the reader to piece together the fragments.
In an apocalypse called "New Me," Corin writes, "They trudged on and on but the land was barren. Fungus rotted their limbs and bacteria new to the dying world cruised their organs."
This apocalypse contains the truth of every system, whether it's religion, government or family: Everything ends. Corin's prose reminds us that it's the job of the failed system to fool the world into thinking it can sustain us—right up until it falls apart. And then what?
What's terrifying about these stories is that even after the collapse, when there's destruction all around us and we can see through the metaphor, we still require protection and comfort and love. Either we get it, discover the capacity for giving it or go mad. The things that drive us now will continue to drive us at the end of the world, but the irony is those things will mean more when the structures that give our lives meaning have been eradicated.
Everything else is noise, but we are obsessed with noise and allergic to the truth of our undoing. We strive to make our lives as noisy as we can.
"When everything is coated with the debris of everything else it has the appeal of a finished product."
Imagine you're in a relationship, a deeply dysfunctional relationship in which all your flaws are out in the open. Sounds terrible, right?
Chelsea Martin's Even Though I Don't Miss You is a bit like that, but, odds are, neither you nor your doomed partner is half as witty, wry or scintillatingly sarcastic as Martin.
"I hated it when you would disregard another girl's feelings. I only wanted you to disregard my feelings."
The book is written as a kind of apologia-after-the-fact to a former lover. Written in the second person, the lover is addressed as the narrator recollects experiences that illuminate something about them. It's neither a screed nor a pity party, but like the couple whose recent break up was live tweeted from a Brooklyn rooftop, neither of them comes out unscathed.
"You said, 'It seems like you're strategically planning your mental breakdown so it fucks over your manager at work.'í I said, 'I'm just trying to fuck over anyone I can these days.'"
Martin's hilariously convoluted aphorisms speak to the impossibility of relationships, especially when it's time for them to end.
"What I want and what I want are usually two different things."