3 new fiction books explore disaster and survival

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There is something lurking beneath the surface of each of these new versions of fiction. Sometimes it’s literal (water snakes!), But mostly it’s a feeling of unease, impending or everyday doom life is going awry. The three books puts us in the present, in places like Sydney, a Scottish lakeside retreat and a small town in the Midwest. We meet characters who go through their days and feel, you know, normal levels of boredom. But then come fires, earthquakes, accidents and… human hibernation? These books take a literary approach to heavy themes like climate change and survival, but often with a strangely satisfying bent that propels the stories and sheds new light on familiar ideas. In other words, all of them would be ideal for absorbing you as late-season snowstorms swirl outside.

“The Inland Sea”, by Madeleine Watts

(Courtesy Catapult)

Madeleine Watts’ anonymous narrator first novel spends much of his or her time engaging in self-destructive behavior, including but not limited to excessive drinking, having an affair with an old lover, and ignoring bruises, hair loss, and other signs of a mysterious health problem. Then again, everyone around her seems prone to equally reckless decisions. She lives in Sydney, where heat waves, Forest fires, floods and other natural disasters caused by climate change are a constant threat. Yet she watches coastal residents buy more insurance on their at-risk homes instead of moving; one day she imagines “sharks hitting the windows”. In one particularly precise plot device, she gets a job as an emergency dispatch operator and feels more paranoid and helpless as she spends her days hoping to help those in crisis before it’s too late.

The plot is more observational than action-packed; we spend all the time in the narrator’s head as she scrolls through each day, remembers scenes from her childhood, and conjures up random bits of history and literature that speak of her own anxieties. In recurring historical passages interspersed with the narrator’s own thoughts, she talks about her great-great-great-great-grandfather, John Oxley, a true explorer of the 19th century who searched in vain for Australia’s “inland sea”. He imagined a mythical Eden in the middle of the continent, where there is in reality only a little more landlocked bush. Our lost narrator is both a searing mess and a sort of Cassandra, who sees humanity rushing to a frightening future and ignoring all signs of what needs to change. Through her, Watts artfully weaves insights into sexual autonomy, unhappy journeys, Roman myths, family ties, and how mundane the effects of climate change can seem, until they don’t. .

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“Life Among Terranauts”, by Caitlin Horrocks

(Courtesy of Little, Brown and Company)

In her news collection, Caitlin Horrocks ‘pieces run the gamut of’ where the hell did you think of this idea? ”to“ mostly based on a true story. ”Somehow everyone still feels believable in their own way.. The first and last entries are an example. In the first, “The Sleep,” a man named Al who lives in a quiet Midwestern town decides to hibernate every winter. It’s weird, but the guy makes a compelling argument for it. He explains that astronauts want to do it for long trips “so as not to go crazy and kill each other” (hyperbolic but true). He also explains, perhaps in an apocryphal way, that in the old days in Russia people slept around fires most of the time: the cold and darkness that justified the calories, it was best to do nothing. Things get weirder as more city dwellers learn about the definitely invented benefits of sleeping for months (straighter teeth and dreams of heaven). Still, you can somehow imagine that if it happened in real life it would turn out the way Horrocks describes it, with reporters realizing and a Dr. Oz type character looming over the national news saying that ” legislation would have to be passed before the custom could spread.

The last piece in the collection shares the name of the book, and its plot is very similar to the actual story of Biosphere 2. In the fictional and real versions, people enter a closed biodome and try survive there as long as possible, the real challenge being the group dynamic. Sects are forming! Money and reputation are at stake! Again, most of this really happened!

Life among Terranauts likes to go completely off the rails at times, like in the story of a woman traveling on an Oregon trail that seems like a weird hybrid between the real thing and the game’s version (other travelers have names like ChezyPizza). But even the silliest concepts are vehicles for realistic characters who seek more meaningful connections in difficult or lonely circumstances. Stories are absurd little bits and pieces that make you think deeply on dealing with loss, hardship and isolation.

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“Summerwater”, by Sarah Moss

(Courtesy Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

If escaping to a Scottish lake (sorry, loch) sounds good to you right now, Sarah Moss’s Summer water will do their best to convince you otherwise. In this novel, which takes place in the middle of a community of vacation cabins and takes place in a single day of relentless rain, we move from one vacationer’s mind to another, picking up weird clues along the way that something bad will happen before the next morning arrives. Moss has a skillful hand with the consciousness flow format through which she introduces every character, from a mother sneaking out on a dawn run to a teenager escaping her family with time alone on a kayak. You start to recognize the characters you just spent time in, as they are observed by other characters. The running woman contemplates her weak heart, remembering her doctor’s advice never to run alone: ​​”But what must another person do, if their heart stops?” How would it help to have a witness? In the next chapter, a cranky old man whose hut she passes briefly sees her pass: hurtling down that hill in her underwear? Mysterious little asides appear between each chapter, in which the creatures of the woods around the loch silently and often frighteningly watch over human activities. “The little creatures in their burrows sniff the air and stay hungry. There will be deaths in the morning. It’s a slim novel that creates tension until the end, and the plot is more about the journey than the destination. You’ll likely be tied to the thoughts of certain characters, but you’ll consume most of the book like a fancy reality show: watching everyone staring at each other and wondering when things are going to go wrong.

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