At Public Books, Andrew Hoberek reviews several recent post-apocalyptic English-language novels, including books by Emily St. John Mandel and Edan Lepucki. Hoberek speculates about the causes behind the current “wave of post-apocalyptic fiction,” as he calls it:
Nowhere is the trend towards literary post-apocalypse more visible than with four recent visions of the end times: Edan Lepucki’s California, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, Laura van den Berg’s Find Me, and Sandra Newman’s The Country of Ice Cream Star. Far from depoliticized, these novels are in fact deeply political in their turn to post-apocalyptic settings, using such settings to unwind narratives of contemporary life that are paradoxically more real than the ones realism can manage.
For this most recent wave of post-apocalyptic fiction, I would argue, the defining events were the 2008 banking crisis and the recession it engendered. In this respect, these novels have a surprising recent ancestor in Gillian Flynn’s 2012 Gone Girl. In one scene, Nick Dunne, whose wife Amy has disappeared under suspicious circumstances from their house in his depressed former hometown of New Carthage, Missouri, goes to look for her in an abandoned mall. Once the economic driver of New Carthage, then subject to a long decline, and finally “ended” by the same “recession” that cost Nick and Amy their glamorous New York jobs, the mall’s squatter-filled interior strikes Nick as “suburbia, post-comet, post-zombie, post-humanity.” While Flynn’s book is not quite respectably literary, I would argue that it is in fact the great realist novel of post-2008 America—great, in part, for reasons having to do with Flynn’s suggestion here that realism is insufficient to render the psychological and social ramifications signified by the 2008 downturn. If Flynn offers an image of the post-apocalypse lurking within the present, then the recent crop of post-apocalyptic novels flips this image to emphasize the ghostly present haunting their imagined futures.
Image: Gartloch Asylum, Glasgow. Via flickr.