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Cooper's Staff Favorites
Cooper joined our team in June of 2021. He likes fiction, science fiction, and history.
"These unbroken stretches of consciousness, days sometimes blurring into one another, seems just a feature of modern life, not worth complaining about," an insomniac remarks to herself.Kim Fu's Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century is a collection of short stories that captures the modern sense of malaise that is now more pronounced, more intense, as a result of recent events. The stories themselves––twelve in total––are largely fantastical tellings, yet never do these fantasies rear themselves up for steady examination. They dwell in the background; they supplement fiercely human tales. In one story, a woman becomes transfixed with miniature time machines sold at a mall kiosk. In another, a tragedy leads to a group of children coming into possession of a haunted doll. Even with these blatant insertions of the impossible, the stories are true to life; the inner-life of the woman at the mall mirrors our own struggles with mortality; the children's grappling with a harmless haunting echoes the dissolution of later childhood. In these ways, Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century deals with hefty subjects through quick, hard-hitting stories. Kim Fu masterfully navigates modern day struggle, and packages elation and toil in equal abundance throughout her collection.
In the closing moments of 2003, Joan Didion’s husband John Gregory Dunne died in his home in Manhattan. Almost 3 years after the event, her daughter, too, passed away. The Year of Magical Thinking is an attempt to reconcille these moments of absolute tragedy. Joan Didion writes in her usual style here; the book reads succiently, sparsely, and with an ambivalence that borders on the terrible. There is real truth here in these pages. As Didion states:
“We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves. as we were. as we are no longer. as we will one day not be at all.”
She is right in this respect; when those close to us die, we are irrevocably changed. We fight on two fronts: not only do we struggle against the terror of the loss, we also must struggle to conduct ourselves in the absence of the deceased. Like a creeping barrage, these struggles with mortality must intensify as they reach the source; us. I recommend this book to anyone who is in a good place to stomach the horror of familial death. It made me appreciate everyday things I didn't before.
Science Fiction is what occupies my headspace during slow days, and of all the science fiction I've read in recent times, Jeff VanderMeer's "Southern Reach" trilogy--Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance--has been the best. The story takes place in a near future where an unknowable environmental catastrophy has occured along some unnamed stretch of coastline. A four person team is sent in to investigate, and mystery and horror ensues. The best part of these books is the way VanderMeer uses diction to delay horror. The "Southern Reach lore"--backgroud information--is fed to the reader at only a slightly faster pace than it is fed to the protagonists. Because of this, towards the third and final act, there are many "Oh Crap!" moments. Additionally, the way VanderMeer describes the almost alien landscape is breathtaking, and because of it I have been inspired--though not yet driven--to visit the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Florida (VanderMeer based his series on this location).
The Road is a hellish tale of a father and son travelling through a fire-ravaged, post apocalyptic America. At one point, the father muses about the world that he still remembers--the world that his son has never seen:
"Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery."
Not only is this sentiment just about the most beautiful thing I've ever read, it rings true today. I think about old growth forests thousands of years old, that first grew when humanity was in its infancy. Cormac McCarthy captures the sadness of knowing the point of no return was crossed long ago, and ruin is now all that remains.
The love that is present in Jesmyn Ward’s novel Salvage the Bones is forceful, selfish, and necessitates unwanted sacrifice. The novel follows a dysfunctional family living in the town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, who must contend with each other, their failing financial situation, as well as the massive hurricane bearing down upon them. While elements of pseudo-magic realism are present, the book is a human tale first and foremost. The protagonist, Esch, remarks of the hurricane that:
“Katrina is the mother we will remember until the next mother with large, merciless hands, committed to blood, comes.”
Just as the Mississipi coast is roiled by the coming of the hurricane, so too are the children in the novel stormbound. They are bourne too and fro by the motions of the world and must accept whatever is thrown at them, be it good or evil, because they have nothing else, no luxury of choice or company. This feeling of desperation Ward permeates throughout her novel. There is both terror and beauty in the destruction that she writes of. Salvage the Bones is nothing if not compelling.
"..though those two are buried at the opposite ends of the earth, one dog will find them both."
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