oh, the temperature is definitely rising folks, from GLOBAL WARMING! I struggle with looking climate change in the face; I am concerned, I am trying to do my part, but the onslaught of facts is just too depressing. Climate-change based fiction, though, clicks in a way that I was not expecting. I suppose there is a level of empathy that transcends the “just the facts” nature of the news when the same information is wrapped in a story. It’s easier to observe and reflect with a story; whenever I read another miserable report on the state of climate change I become a crippling ball of rage and anxiety.
The Way 4/5
Two researchers find themselves stranded in Mississippi during a surprise snow storm. Both are deeply entrenched in the climate war, but both are desperately in need of reliable work as grants dry up and science deniers hold the reins of the government. Both have interviewed, seemingly unsuccessfully, for the same teaching position. Sparks fly, temperatures rise, everyone goes snow-mad and a newly-out young man (should he march in the Pride Parade? Can he leave these drunk adults to their own devices and still keep his work-study job?) at the hotel information desk is left to babysit these adults while they cavort, kvetch, and canoodle. A good time, inspired by a global bad time, is had by all. The Way was the right way (I cannot help myself) to open this collection; the stakes of the world are dire, but the stakes in this college town are wonderfully flexible. It’s the end of the world as they know it, but they feel fine.
Boca Raton 4/5
No one can get into an unraveling mind quite like Lauren Groff. Fates and Furies and The Monsters of Templeton are two of my favorite pieces of contemporary literature, and “Boca Raton” crams everything that I love about those two pieces into a tiny but devastating package. A woman in a small Florida Cottage attempts to come to terms with climate change, hurricanes, religious fanatics, motherhood, loss, history, and insomnia while working on a research project for a museum of history at a small college. Her journey is depressing, enlightening, thrilling, and hysterical. Sometimes it feels good to feel bad! There has been so much talk of the “Cool Girl” and her many tropes, but Lauren Groff is not interested in “cool”. Cool in intense situations, yes. Cool when faced with absolute tragedy, yes. Cool within her own feelings and actions- a cool that is detached, other, and alien. Lauren Groff’s “cool” is something that you admire from a distance but regard with fear in your heart.
Oof. This story is cruel and gross. There is nothing funny about elder abuse. It does not matter if the person in question is described as being unpleasant; there is a huge difference between intentional cruelty and the effects of old age on both the body and the mind. Are things pretty bad for our narrator? I suppose so- he’s unhappy, he’s lonely, and he lives with his mother. He lives, might I add, rent and utility free with his mother. Our narrator is upset that his elderly mother keeps the climate control cranked to hot-house temperatures. We’re in the near future, the temperature is rising, and all people have their power monitored by some sort of government-backed conglomerate. Only her voice controls their temperature. She frequently uses her voice to belittle him…but she is clearly losing her mental faculties. He engages in some particularly nasty behavior, including but not limited to animal cruelty, leering at young women, and the afore-mentioned elder abuse. The audio narration is over-the-top and leans too strongly into icky stereotypes. Skip this one. I’m sure it may be defended as being a dArK cOmEdY, but it- much like the narrator- is truly without redeeming characteristics.
There’s No Place Like Home 3/5
100 years from now, Arizona is an uninhabitable wasteland, water is more expensive than food, and Saudi princes have all moved to castles in Bavaria. A girl and her Daddy look back on old reports of entire towns in Italy being sold for next to nothing (you know- like what is happening RIGHT NOW) and dream about a new place. There is no “new place”. California is still reeling from The Big One, water is more expensive than food, and little girls have to work harder in the terribly hot sun. This piece is the sparsest of the bunch. It’s a wisp of a story but it establishes more in under an hour than other books have done in days. Realizations were a bit brusque, and I feel that it could have benefitted from a bit more room to breathe, but I found it affecting none the less, and I will be seeking out more work from Eden Lepucki in CBR13.
Falls the Shadow 3/5
A former soldier searches for his place post-return. His roots are in Appalachia, as well as the roots of some generational trauma tangled up with the roots of an endangered species of tree. He loses purpose, loses land, and gains the interest of both ad companies and tech moguls. His face is wanted, but he’s not sure why. Wildlife conservation, alcohol distillers, dusty old cowboys, and would-be Bond villains all need him to do their bidding, but he isn’t terribly interested in figuring out if he should. Skip Horack, another author that I had not read before, grabbed my attention right away with careful but sparing detail. I will be looking into more of their work. Ryan Burke’s narration was simple and beautiful; should I come across another audio adaptation from him, I will not hesitate to listen. Both worked together to create a gossamer web of a story; I cannot give any more weight to my description without tearing the fragile thing to pieces.
The Hillside 4/5
It was a general belief that humans might not be smart, but they were cunning—that is, that they knew how to get what they wanted but could achieve no understanding of the ramifications of those things that they wanted.
Oh Jane Smiley! I am always VERY worried when animal protagonists take the lead! I spent this entire story barely hearing myself think over the jackhammer pace of my heart. Don’t worry- those who are sensitive to animal peril- this story is safe! Safe for animals, at least. At some point in the very far future, animals have re-inherited the earth. They are in control, they are able to fully communicate with each other, and they have a deep and brutal understanding of the horrors that human wrought upon the Earth and all those who walked the land. The animals are meeting in congress to decide what to do with humans, all humans, now that a tribe of them have learned – once again – to harness fire. Our narrator is a mare tasked with watching and controlling the humans. She thinks that she sees more than just greed, cruelty, and avarice. She thinks the humans- especially one female that she has deemed “Plucky”, might be worth saving. This tiny story made me sob to the point of nearly coughing my lungs up. Apologies to Mr. andtheIToldYouSos, who did his best to stay in the kitchen pretending that I wasn’t losing it!
At the Bottom of New Lake 4/5
People called me depressing, but who exactly were the depressing ones? The kids asked to do the impossible, or the adults who asked them to do it?
A 14 year old girl spends her spare time diving to the bottom of a lake. It’s not just any lake, though: the lake was created by the sea rising and swallowing a swath of land along the beach in Cape Cod. Her family runs the local Chinese restaurant in town, and it is no secret to her that she and her family would not be seeing any ocean-front property were it not for climate collapse. She’s poor, she’s different, and she’s in love with a female classmate in the way that only a 14 year old can be in love. Be prepared to have your heart bruised. Our heroine finds purpose and peace in this lake, but her Biology teacher wants her to be held accountable for the loss at hand and the fight for the future. This piece is both acidic and sweet, leaving you both burnt and sated. Another author to add to my TBR pile!
All together, I landed on an average in the low-threes…but I will not let the sun-caked vomit that is “Controller” taint this collection! I am making the call for a solid 4-star experience.