David's Reviews > After the Apocalypse

After the Apocalypse by Maureen F. McHugh
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's review
Mar 01, 2012

really liked it
Read in February, 2012

Maureen McHugh has a knack—and I say 'knack' because it's even more elusive and intuitive than a talent—for investing each of her short stories with an immediately recognizable humanity, even when trafficking in genre tropes or the wantonly fantastical. In the premiere story 'The Naturalist,' the trappings of a traditional zombie story are elevated by an eminently human protagonist named Cahill whose thoughts and concerns aren't those of a caricatured horror movie hero—caught in a dumbshow of hide-and-kill—but those of a naturalistic everyman. Cahill's cunning and practicality are matched by his moral ambiguity. He doesn't correspond either to the prevailing notions of heroism or villainy. He's a muddy character. And it's precisely this psychological muddiness which engages the reader and allows the story to transcend the rote of zombie survivalism tales. McHugh's precise and truthful rendering of what it means to be alive at the beginning of the twenty-first century similarly enlivens all of these stories with an unmistakable sympathy. All of our fears and failings are registered here, along with our doggedness and hope.

I suppose the unifying theme of the book is 'apocalypse' in a very broad, metaphorical sense. Only a few of the stories allude to a literal global cataclysm. Some of the apocalypses are only personal, but devastating in their own proportionate ways. Themes include economic collapse, artificial intelligence, pandemics, dirty bombs, and amnesia. The highlights are 'The Naturalist,' 'Useless Things,' and 'Kingdom of the Blind.' McHugh's only misstep here is the (thankfully) very short story 'Going to France'—a ditzy oddity about flying people. Or something. It's a conspicuous dud among the other eight very accomplished stories included here.

I suppose I ought to thank Gottlieb for badgering me into reading this with his typical spittle-flying hyperbole, but I just can't bring myself to. He said it was the best book of last year. He's probably right, but don't tell him.
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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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message 1: by Jason (new)

Jason Pretty damn good stuff, eh? I'm glad brian twisted your arm....

David Mike wrote: "Pretty damn good stuff, eh? I'm glad brian twisted your arm...."

It pains me to admit when he's right. (Your review was right too, but you didn't badger me.)

But yes! This was great. I want to read more by McHugh...

message 3: by Jason (new)

Jason I've read about her first novel for years, but the pleasure of this collection finally inspired me to find a used copy...

message 4: by brian (last edited Feb 05, 2012 05:24PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

brian   love that you guys are writing reviews & posting comments during the superbowl. yay snobs and effeminate booknerds! gimme david's inanities and hyperbole over a bunch of beer-swilling wing-eating menchild's any day. amen.

based solely on this collection, mchugh joins munro at the top of my 'greatest living short story writers' -- i just picked up mothers & other monsters... excited.

David What's a superbowl?

message 6: by Christian (new)

Christian Kiefer It's a super big bowl. I mean really REALLY fucking big.

Carole I agree about "Going to France" -- I just didn't understand it and I didn't think it really quite fit in with the other (excellent) stories in the collection.

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