After the Apocalypse: StoriesAfter the Apocalypse: Stories by Maureen F. McHugh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

i used to be a great devourer of short fiction–ate stories like popcorn–but in recent years i find that i need the depth that only a full-length novel can bring. maybe it’s just how much time you spend reading a novel, comparatively. i don’t know. but i like complexity these days a lot more than i like small, jewel-like perfection.

and so i bounced around the bookstore aisle with joy when i saw a new maureen f. mchugh, even a slender one, and then deflated somewhat when i saw it was short stories.

but you know, short maureen f. mchugh is still better than most people’s novels. and this collection does not disappoint.

i don’t know how she manages to make you feel like you’ve read a novel, even only in the space of some few pages. paolo bacigalupi can do that; louise erdrich can do that; a few others who are true masters of the short form can. reading one of these stories is truly falling down the rabbit-hole–you are BAM! in the world of the story, and so near the thoughts and feelings of the characters, that it’s as if there had been a couple hundred pages leading up to it that you just forgot you’d read.

the first and last stories are standouts i will not likely ever forget. one or two are, well, let’s be honest, meh. all in all it left me as usual wishing i could speed her pen a bit, and feed me more.

one oddball thought as i was reading this collection. so many of the characters are not well-educated, middle-class-and-up white people. occasionally their diction seemed more elevated than was likely, but eh, i can live with that. it’s just so refreshing to hang out with people who don’t all sound like they dropped out of a $35,000-a-year college catalog. it seems like america is forgetting it still has a working class, there are so few books about them. so it was a distinct pleasure to read so many stories of the not-affluent.

and it got me thinking–what would a newspaper look like if it really took the working class as its audience? i’m pretty certain it would not look like the New York Times. U.S. culture has stratified so much economically that reading a working-class newspaper would probably feel like reading a newspaper from another nation. “How to Get an Extra 3,000 Miles on Your Transmission”. “Giving Your 12-Year-Old Confidence to Babysit Younger Siblings”. i don’t know when this happened… i miss the days (i swear, they’re somewhere in my memory) when working-class people had the respect of society.

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