3 new fiction books explore disaster and survival

Something lurks beneath the surface of each of these new fiction releases. Sometimes it’s literal (water snakes!), But most of the time it’s a feeling of discomfort, impending doom, or crooked everyday life. All three books Put us in the present, in places like Sydney, a Scottish lakeside retreat and a small Midwestern town. We meet characters who pass their days and, as you know, feel normally long-lived. But then come the fires, earthquakes, accidents and … human hibernation? These books take a literary approach to heavy subjects like climate change and survival, but often with a satisfyingly odd bias that propels the stories forward and re-illuminates familiar ideas. In other words, they are all great for immersing yourself in as late-season snowstorms swirl outside.

“The Inland Sea” by Madeleine Watts

(Photo: Courtesy Catapult)

The unnamed narrator of Madeleine Watts’ debut novel spends much of her time self-destructive behavior, including, but not limited to, excessive drinking, an affair with an old lover, and ignoring bruising, hair loss, and other signs of a mysterious health problem. On the other hand, everyone around her seems to be prone to equally reckless choices. She lives in Sydney, where heat waves, forest fires, floods and other natural disasters caused by climate change are a constant threat. Even so, she watches coastal residents buy more insurance for their vulnerable homes instead of moving. She imagines one day “sharks bumping into the window panes”. In a plot machine that is particularly on the nose, she gets a job as an emergency service worker and feels more paranoid and helpless as she spends her days helping people in crisis before it’s too late.

The plot is more observational than action-packed; We spend all the time in the narrator’s head as she strolls around the area every day, remembering scenes from her childhood and bringing up random bits of history and literature that speak to her own fears. In recurring historical passages interspersed with the narrator’s own thoughts, she talks about her great-great-great-great-grandfather John Oxley, a true explorer of the 19th century who unsuccessfully searched for Australia’s “inland sea”. He imagined a mythical Eden in the middle of the continent, in which there is really only an inland bush. Our lost narrator is both a hot mess and a type of Cassandra who sees humanity race into a frightening future and ignore any signs of what needs to change. Through them, Watts subtly combines observations about sexual autonomy, unfortunate journeys, Roman myths, family ties, and how mundane the effects of climate change can feel until they don’t.

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“Life among the Terranauts” by Caitlin Horrocks

Life among the Terranauts(Photo: Courtesy Little, Brown and Company)

In her collection of short stories, Caitlin Horrocks’ pieces of “Where the hell did you think of this idea?” to be “essentially based on a true story.” Somehow everyone still feels believable in their own way. The first and last entries are typical examples. In the first, “The Sleep,” a man named Al, who lives in a quiet Midwestern town, decides to hibernate every winter. That’s bizarre, but the guy actually makes a compelling argument for it. He explains that astronauts want to do this for long trips “so they don’t go crazy and kill each other”. (hyperbolic but true). Perhaps apocryphally, he also explains that in the old days in Russia people mostly slept by the fire most of the time: “There was only so much food that could be put in and you thought unless a man had something to do because of the cold and the darkness that justified the calories, it was better not to do anything. “Things get stranger as other city dwellers discover the definitely made-up benefits of sleeping for months (straight teeth and dreams of paradise). Even so, one can imagine that if this happened in real life, it would continue like Horrocks describes it, with reporters getting their way and a Dr. Oz, who charges the national news, says that “Laws should be passed beforehand – the custom could spread. ”

The last piece of the collection bears the name of the book, and its plot bears a great deal of resemblance to the real story of Biosphere 2. In both the fictional and the real version, people enter a sealed off biodome and try to survive there as long as possible, the real challenge being the group dynamics. Cults Form! Money and reputation are at stake! Again, most of it really happened!

Life among the terranauts enjoys getting completely off track sometimes, like in a story about a woman traveling an Oregon Trail that seems like an odd mix of the real thing and the game version (fellow travelers have names like ChezyPizza ). But even the silliest concepts are vehicles for realistic characters looking for more meaningful connections in difficult or lonely circumstances. The stories are absurd little bites that make you feel Think carefully about dealing with loss, hardship and isolation.

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“Summerwater” by Sarah Moss

Summer water(Photo: Courtesy Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

If escaping to a Scottish lake (sorry, loch) sounds nice right now, Sarah Moss’ Summerwater will do her best to convince you. In this novel, set amid a community of vacation cottages and set on a single day of relentless rain, we jump from vacationer to vacationer, gathering eerie clues along the way that something bad is about to happen before the next morning arrives. Moss has a dexterous hand with the stream of consciousness format through which she presents every character, from a mother sneaking out for a dawn run to a teenager escaping his family on a kayak with some alone time. You start to recognize characters that you have just spent time on in their mind as they are being watched by other characters. The running woman looks at her weak heart and recalls her doctor’s advice never to run alone: ​​“But what can another person do when their heart stops? How would it help to have a witness? “In the next chapter, a sullen old man whose cabin she passes by sees her run past:” I wouldn’t even know if anyone would come up behind her and what about her children taking care of her while she was her joints wears out? Pounding down the hill in her underwear? «Between each chapter there are mysterious little side effects in which the forest dwellers around the lake give a quiet and often creepy observation of what is happening to the people. “Small creatures in their burrows sniff the air and stay hungry. There will be deaths in the morning. “It’s a sleek novel that builds suspense right through to the end, and the intrigue is more on the journey than on the destination. You will likely be referring to the thoughts of a few characters, but consuming most of the book like high-profile reality television: watch everyone watching each other and wonder when something will go wrong.

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Main photo: Liam Grant / Stocksy

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