by Matt Bell
Mudluscious Press, released today, April 15, 2012
If ten people were to be tasked with identifying the theme of Cataclysm Baby, ten could write dissertations, and none would have any parallels. This post-apocalyptic novel is different today than it was yesterday and different from what it will be tomorrow.
Certainly the years following a mass destruction, the ethical choices one must make to preference the very survival of humanity over an individual's moral construct, provide just the veneer of what these twenty-six stories, A to Z, attempt to tell. Underneath the obvious Orwellian overtones lie the total lack of control felt by the oft-forgotten parent, the father. The collective 'he' convey the wear and tear that infertility, deformity, disability have on a marriage. Each father mourns the loss of context for their memories: their pre-apocalyptic lives offer no prospects for their children.
What struck me after reading, then re-reading, these stories were their embedment in what is now and what was, not just the what is to come with the end of days. I was transported to the growing deserts of Africa where fathers are forced to choose between seeking their child's protection in the orphanage or the assured starvation of the family. How many fathers were told that a Western adoption would provide the child a better life? How many fathers were deceived, not necessarily with intent, that the papers they signed would unburden their daughters, their sons, their families. Their culture accepts orphanages as a respite; our culture views orphanages as an abandonment. Did he know his son was gone forever? I then travel to Asia and witness the banks of baby girls in Chinese orphanages. The state-mandated one-child provides a constant tension with the preference of the male child, the perfect child. How many fathers wept as they left their newborn daughters on these doorsteps? The horror the father must have felt upon witnessing the cleft palate on his son's face! How many fathers felt helpless in consoling their wives' grief? The womb, once full, then contracted, has but an empty cradle to show for its efforts. My final destination was home, the West: here I watch the struggles of the first generation immigrant father. His family's stories, the values of love, respect and responsibility and his very language lost on an unviewable, unknowable continent. I see the private tears of the father, unable to stem the tide of indoctrination, assimilation. His child mocks his every word, his every bite, and this father can do nothing more than witness the death of his tradition. Did he know that this boat, destined for prosperity, would bring him such pain? Knowing what he knows now, would he have led his family up the gangplank?
I am still shivering from Bell's chilling profundity. I now look across the dinner table and view my husband through a different lens. I can now see his sufferings with clarity; I am no longer denying their existence. Few books in print have the reach and depth these pages achieve. I will go back to these words, when I am in another time, another place in my life. How will I perceive these words then?