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Tag: cataclysm baby

Apocalypse Now

by Treehouse Editors

Laura Casteel

Review of Cataclysm Baby by Matt Bell
Mud Luscious Press
April 2012

With the date of the Mayan prophecy fast approaching, apocalyptic literature is all the rage, but Matt Bell defies the typical with bared teeth in his novella Cataclysm Baby, a fresh, soul-splitting addition to the discussions of parenting and the last days of the human race.

Cataclysm Baby is tightly written, consisting of twenty-six 2-4 page chapters, one for each letter of the alphabet. Each chapter is titled with the names of three children, emphasizing the focus on parent-child relationships. Instead of creating a single, linear story, the chapters function as individual flash fiction pieces told from the perspectives of twenty-six different fathers, all struggling to fulfill their duties in the same post-apocalyptic world. Bell never wastes an opportunity to add disturbing details to this world, a “waste of weather and wild” where “fists of black hail” fall from the sky, homes are buried in ashes or swept away by floods, and massive jungles grow “where our concrete once strangled the earth,” an earth whose renewed savagery gradually swallows the way of life these parents cling to.

Their children, however, are the ultimate examples of the changing planet. They adapt to their ruined environment by evolving in eerily beautiful, darkly humorous, and often gut-wrenching ways. One father awaits the day his cocoon-wrapped daughter will spread her “fresh wings… her span of translucent amber,” and join other flying children in “a sky clouded shut,” while another discovers the tunnels in his floor left by his burrowing offspring. Together, their stories ingeniously tackle the classic theme of children growing up and abandoning the ways of their parents, who struggle to hang on or let go. Except, these girls and boys are leaving behind a world that no longer welcomes human beings, or their traditional family roles. In the particularly poignant chapter “Walker, Wallace, Warren,” a father who surrounds himself with woodcarvings of his lost wife and children laments, “how I wish I could be the father and she the mother and all these our children, so that none of us would be lonely again.”

The fathers of Cataclysm Baby have a complex assortment of feelings toward their families, ranging from anger and guilt to hope and defeat, and each is explored through their unique circumstances and the traits of their children. But even among these broken men in a broken world, there are still sparks of love and redemption. In “Virgil, Virotte, Vitalis,” a chapter that brings to mind Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and the film Children of Men, a man travels a thousand miles and becomes a killer to give his daughter a chance at a better future, away from the men “who would only want what she is, never who.

For all of its depth and detail, perhaps the most striking aspect of this novella is the simplicity of its language. Bell’s accessible sentences, built on strong, tangible verbs and nouns, ground the reader in a reality they can see, hear, and feel, rather than a lofty philosophical discourse. If you crave raw, honest writing that begs to be questioned, Cataclysm Baby won’t disappoint.

5 New Small Press Books I Can’t Wait to Read

by Treehouse Editors

Johannes Lichtman

Spring is shaping up to be an awesome season for small press books. Here are five (or, four, plus one big press book) that I’m dying to crack open.

(In order of release date)

  1. Amsterdam Stories by Nescio (NYRB Classics). I’m always excited for the chance to say “I read a foreign book!” It happens pretty rarely, because I’m lazy, but when the author is an early twentieth century Dutch businessman who wrote prose under a pseudonym that means “I don’t know” in Latin, well, then I’m game.
  2. Fires of Our Choosing by Eugene Cross (Dzanc). I’ve been pretty pumped about this one ever since Cross published “Rosaleen, If You Know What I Mean” in American Short Fiction. Like much of Cross’ fiction, it’s a brutal and surprising story that unfolds naturally, without the artificial first sentence hook that is the hallmark of so much contemporary short fiction. Add in the fact that the collection comes from Dzanc—the awesome home of The Collagist—and there’s a great chance of this book kicking ass.
  3. When All the World Is Old by John Rybicki (Lookout). I see the phrase “will break your heart” on the cover of too many books that only end up breaking my heart from the knowledge that I wasted 16 bucks. But trust me—this book will break your heart in the best possible way. Rybicki writes about his dying wife scrawling love notes to him on the shower door; after she died, the fog from his breath would make them reappear.
  4. Cataclysm Baby by Matt Bell (Mud Luscious). I first heard of Bell’s novella through word of mouth—as is so often the case with this champion of the indie world—and I thought the book was called, “Cataclysm, Baby.” The comma might have changed the meaning from intriguingly ominous book title to kickass song lyric, but, alas, it was not be. Regardless, Kyle Minor called this crazy-original book: “An apocalyptic abecedarium that is one part baby name registry, one part S. Thompson’s Index of Folk-Motifs, one part Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.” So what more do you need?
  5. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain (Ecco). This book isn’t from a small press, but if you’ve read Ben Fountain’s first collection, Brief Encounters with Che Guevara—a set of exquisite novels hidden in the shells of short stories—you’ll know why I wanted to break the rules for it. I heard Fountain read an excerpt from a draft of the novel two and a half years ago, and I still remember his description of the beached whaleness of Texas Stadium.

5 Things You Should Read (Minor)

by a contributor

Kyle Minor

  1. Cataclysm Baby,” by Matt Bell – An apocalyptic abecedarium that is one part baby name registry, one part S. Thompson’s Index of Folk-Motifs, one part Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. It might also be effective birth control, if Uncle Sam has taken away all your other options.
  2. Against Specificity,” by Douglas Watson – “The trouble: You want Thing A but are stuck with Thing B.”
  3. Bohemian Rhapsody,” by Sara Faye Leiber – Bedbugs, body, books, Bohemia.
  4. Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, by Danielle Evans – Eight stories sure to bust up your heart.
  5. One Perfect Bird: Poems, by Letitia Trent – The poems in One Perfect Bird ride like a dirty living letter in a good, clean envelope. They are the silty Tang in our cups, the color of the hunters’ vests like ribbons through the birches as they searched our forest for any rusty bursts of blood. They are primarily poltergeists; mesh net masks and subtly singing beards, bee bodies slipping from their chins like honey. If it’s true that I lifted all these lines of praise from the lines in Letitia Trent’s poems—and it is true—then who could blame me? For the lyricism required to describe them, I can’t better their maker. No one could.

Kyle Minor is the author of In the Devil’s Territory, a collection of stories. Recent work appears in Gulf CoastThe Southern Review, and Best American Mystery Stories 2008. Follow him on Twitter.