Lucy Corin, One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses, McSweeney's, 2013

[Review Guidelines]

What does the work of Lucy Corin resist? Resistance is a thing I admire and associate with morals, or maybe ethics. Principles, at the very least, which seems like a good word, a word with fewer religious connotations. In any case when principled writers put certain words in certain places they are building something new, something only they can see. Lucy Corin built the end of the world one hundred and three times and in doing so resisted explosions, the crying masses, and hot end-of-world sex.

This is charming and contrary both.


The table of contents in One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses promises three longish stories followed by "A Hundred Apocalypses," which I read first, in an order that made sense to me. I love collections of delectable brevities, invitations to take a breath between, reposition myself in the chair, and then lunge into a new headspace.

I confess: I couldn't seem to brunt my way through it, couldn't just sit down and plow. It invites metaphor-making, this book does, and in the time I lingered over it, comparisons kept occurring themselves to me: tunneling underneath one great and ruined landscape. Wandering an epiphanic minefield. Assuming the hazy essence of an omnipotent and voyeuristic godlet, only to swoop among myriad subjects and nose in on their intimate endtimes. 

The trouble is these apocalypses all achieve meaning in such different ways. Sure they share some movement strategies, but every one of the hundred demands to be remarked-upon. And so how to characterize the book—it not being feasible, in this context anyhow, to discuss all hundred endings, all hundred-and-three facets to the crystal?

Actually this seems like a problem only if I'm trying to deliver some broad, homogeneous swath of analysis, or maybe a cute capsule you might dissolve in your cheek.


And so every once in a while the apocalypse presents itself promptly, in the expected attire; just as sometimes, in life, you can point to a situation and say that is going to end poorly and then it does (see: "The New Me"). You expect explosions and then you get them. Sometimes the apocalypse happened long beforehand, and the scene you read is the postapocalyptic quotidian, fractious and moody and funny as fuck (see: "Hot Ticket"). Sometimes the apocalypse is other people (see: "Math"; see: "Coming to Life"; see "Journalist"), and sometimes it is a tool or a trick, a precious artifact we all should wish to own (see: "Rate this Apocalypse"). Most of the time, though, the apocalypse is a visceral experience Corin asks us to live and think through (see: "Ways of Learning"; see "Dream Girl"; see "Sail, Hull, Jibs"; see what you want to see in them, but each one contains a focal point, a small, dense nexus of necessary thought, a present for you to take your time disrobing).


I want to talk about "Tahiti," an apocalypse that houses one of the visible apocalypses. Actually I want "Tahiti" to tell you why it's worth talking about—and I'm not even giving you the first sentence, which is like a seven-layer punch to the gut:

She took a piece of ice into her mouth and let it hurt, perhaps the last ice on earth. She took a look at the house and felt pickled. She turned her mind toward the several moments in her history that were worth considering, and watched the ideas turn in the atmosphere like model planets and then fail. Home, home, home is where you used to think you wanted to go. (131)

The saddest thing is not the end of the world.


God, the longer stories. How do I begin to broach them? Can I just admit I'm haunted by the gallery of madmen in "Madmen"? Can I just hold forth for a while about how time accordions in "Godzilla Versus the Smog Monster," allowing us access to the full scope of the protagonist's life, contextualizing everything the story's events in a way that is both exhilarating and inescapable? Or how about the way the spliced end of "Eyes of Dogs" allows one narrative to shame the other, to scold it, while the other's all balls and brass, all brazen?


Some words about the language (and as I write this I wonder: shouldn't this part come first? If I am true to myself as reader and fan of the Corin, should I not lead with what I most love?) are in order: prepare for a hackling, for all of your hairs to raise themselves in one grand, creepy salute. Corin's sentences land with the force of a hatchet and the shivery precision of the weird, bendy blade you might have found when you were going through your grandfather's WWII stuff. They're best read aloud. They're best read aloud, to another someone preferably. Then you can hear the expansiveness, the extravagant and vividly conversational tone. Then you can hear the way Corin breaks each sentence into punctuated pieces to allow for breathing, but won't end the thing until it's done its job. Then you can chew on and taste each unexpected word, spit out the bitter bits, choke as if sobbing when you find something tragic inside a piece of angel food cake.

Too, the narration reflects upon itself, notices its own bright white plume like a contrail in its wake. The narration discusses itself with you, the reader: is this beautiful or is this pollution? Was this a little vague, that a little over-the-top? "We want to shoot her," the first-person plural tells us in "Ghosts." "Sure, with a gun," it agrees amicably, creepily (94). It's like listening to a story talk to itself. It's like having a friend tell you a story, if your friend is someone with lacerating wit, if your friend is delirious, a bottomless well.


When the world is ending, won't you, too, just want to skip to the interesting part? Will you have any patience left for anything unessential? And—after watching enough things get eviscerated, get exploded quick and grisly, will you realize that gorgeous fiery oblivion was only a more obvious version of what'd been happening all along?

I think the closest Lucy Corin gets to articulating this notion is in "Zombies," which features some precocious children (they do not die), and then some man who's drunk in his cul-de-sac:

But the apocalypse is not the wobbling away. The wobbling away is life persisting. The apocalypse is him spinning, with the drink clink-clinking, delicate potential to go faster and faster, to drill a hole into the earth with his body—or—and—alternately, to dissipate centrifugally like rings through water, into droplets, into air. (120)