One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses by Lucy Corin
McSweeney's Books, 2013; 192 pp
Reviewed by Joanna Novak
Lucy Corin’s third book is a collection with edges. Angles. Elements of the world as depicted by newspapers and Netflix, but seen askew. In her associative and sometimes destabilizing sentences, Corin creates a series (more than a hundred) of fictions that illuminate the red (blood, guts, danger, sex, caution, stop, romance, roses, velvet) parts of life.
Some reviewers will cite the series “A Hundred Apocalypses” as this collection’s anchor. In “A Hundred Apocalypses,” Corin facility with compression is on full-display: grouped into four sections (i.e., A Quarter of a Hundred Apocalypses) with subtitles (i.e., “hands out for a new future”), one hundred fictions with titles like “Fresh,” “Cake,” “Look Inside,” “Vision Test,” and “The New Me” comprise the apocalypses. The narrators shift, the settings morph; there is not just one apocalypse; frequently, unnamed characters seem to be set down in an unknowable world and left reeling.
Corin is a writer who is both linguistically and formally dexterous. She can be LOL-funny, as in an apocalypse titled “Baby Alive.” Taking the form of a series of a brief film synopsis and a series of viewer reviews, Corin tells a story in star ratings and a polyphony of opinions. She writes, “The movie, enjoyable as it was, left me with many lingering questions. It doesn’t say what he wants with the babies, even though there are only a few just near the end.” Corin’s ear for the vagaries of human-speech is uncanny, and it is a testament to her levity that she gives these voices page-time alongside her more articulate narrators.
I will, though, respectfully disagree with reviewers who feel this collection is anchored by “A Hundred Apocalypses.” Though these pieces are engaging and utterly capable of inducing a kind of instant mood-alteration in this reader, the three long stories that begin One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses are what I expect I’ll return to again and again. In “Eyes of Dogs,” Corin gruesomely retells Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Tinderbox.” In “Madmen,” an adolescent girl is taken to an asylum by her parents where she will pick out—yes, a madman—to take care of as she enters adulthood. In “Godzilla Versus the Smog Monster,” a teenage boy comes to terms with what he can never know about the people he loves—why, for instance, his father has hidden in a dresser drawer a copy of Godzilla Versus the Smog Monster. These three stories—ten, twenty-seven, and twenty-two pages long, respectively—offer readers fully-realized worlds inhabited by vulnerable, engaging characters who we witness in the advent of personal and moral challenges.
Take, for instance, this observation by the newly-menstruating narrator of “Madmen”:
Meanwhile I watched the world go by out the side window, comparing regular view versus including the mirror. I kept wondering if the world was going to look different after I had a madman, so I wanted to get a good “before shot of it. To sum up, the world was: green, green, green, house, street, green, gas station, green, green, strip mall, green with brown, then hillier and hillier. Then, exactly as my mother was saying “schoolhouse” again, we went by this little white schoolhouse I’d never noticed before. It was as if her saying the world “schoolhouse” made it appear—I was so surprised I tried to point it out to her, but she shook her head not to interrupt, and by then she’d missed it.
And, then, for another instance, this apocalypse, “For Real,” quoted in its entirety:
Slowly, carefully, gingerly, I began to suspect I remained ironical.
Surely this is an apples and oranges distinction, but having begun the collection with such riches, many of the short apocalypses left me wanting more.
Event, damage, destruction, the big showdown, a final demise, wrath at the hands of whatever capital-letter power (Nature, God, Bombs): Corin’s collection suggests the everyday contains catastrophes. It also sinisterly pokes at the commodification of peril. Whether we listen to the rapture-ready or the Weather Channel, we live in a moment where the sounding of annihilation sells. What I loved about the first three stories in One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses was the space that Corin created for her readers to settle into and luxuriate in the terror.