Categorized | Fiction

Grants Pass Fiction Review

Posted on January 15, 2010 by alanajoli

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    This review is long overdue. Matt sent me Grants Pass, an awesome post-apocalyptic anthology edited by Jennifer Brozek and Amanda Pillar (more on why it’s awesome below) this past summer. It may have even been late spring. And after reading the introductions on my computer screen (which, on initial read, made chills creep up and down my spine), the anthology languished on my computer. I could not get myself sitting down in front of the screen long enough to read the carefully crafted short stories, couldn’t explore their interconnectedness while looking at them on a monitor. I printed out the whole pdf onto paper — but the formatting was a little odd, and not only was the collection heavy, the font was so large on the print out that it actually made it difficult to read. The three ring binder I put it in traveled from room to room in my house — but it didn’t open. The book languished… until I decided to try out an e-Reader. In less than a week, I’ve accomplished what it took me months to do: finished reading the whole anthology, cover to cover (as it were).

    So a word on the e-book version’s format: if you like reading on your computer screen, this is a well designed pdf, great for that format. If you prefer reading print, I’d advise purchasing a print copy of the anthology, as the pdf does not translate well from screen to printer. My Nook had some formatting issues with the book as well (page lengths don’t always translate well on the Nook, and the drop caps that begin each story were dropped to the bottom of the story’s first page), but I had a very easy time to adapting to reading it that way.

    And now into the actual meat of the anthology. In two introductions from the editors, which might have actually been better as afterwords (so as not to prepare the readers so thoroughly for the journey on which they’re about to embark), the concept of Grants Pass is explained: Jennifer once wrote a blog post as a mental exercise that’s much like the one included in the anthology. If the world ends, what would your plan be? What would you take with you? Above all, meet in Grants Pass, Oregon, where other like-minded spirits will be waiting. Written from the voice of Kayley, the blog post starts out the anthology with the premise, and each story refers back to Kayley and her promise for a place where people can find a new home if the apocalypse should happen.

    A series of news articles and radio broadcasts describe just that: three terrorist-developed viruses sweep through the world, alongside several natural disasters that are consequences of global warming and other factors. The majority of the people in the world are dead. This section is the one that brought chills: news reports are featured in several languages, and eventually, the speakers break down, from a newscaster on the BBC giving up hope on air to a radio announcement in Spanish declaring that everyone is dead — but calling people to believe in a place called Grants Pass, if there is anyone out there, listening (which the speaker doubts, but pleads is true).

    The stories that follow take place all over the world. Some are, understandably, bleak. The strongest selections mix despair and hope, humor and questionable ethics. “Animal Husbandry” by Seanan McGuire is a stand-out: a veterinarian, traveling with an entourage of animals, is held at gun point until she promises to help a little girl who has one of the plagues. Her commentary on the state of humanity after the plague is wry and clever:

    I’ve come to see looting as a sort of hopeful omen, a little piece of proof that the human race will manage to recover from what it’s done to itself. I was less pleased to see that my would-be looters had focused their attentions on the junk food aisles and cosmetics, almost completely ignoring the canned goods and well-stocked pharmacy. Maybe that was better for me, but it didn’t bode well for the survival of the species.

    That narrative tone makes her questionable decisions by the end of the story seem even colder — and yet, it’s difficult to disagree with her choices. Others have to face those same decisions: do they kill to save their own lives? How do they protect themselves, and others they find along the way, without losing what has made them who they are? In “Men of Faith” by Ivan Ewert, the narrator has to make a decision of whether to be loyal to the people who have been his team on their journey to Grants Pass, or whether to take matters into his own hands when he believes their decisions are wrong. “Remembrance,” the final story, written as a journal found long after the apocalypse, shows how even the right decisions — protecting others from those who would take advantage of them — come with a cost to the conscience.

    Two of the stories feature young narrators: “Hells Bells” by Cherie Priest, which is told from the voice of a ruthless child who has no trouble being glad for the deaths of those who are mean to her, and “The Few that Are Good” by Scott Almes, in which a young boy learns from the example of his older brother, beginning with hope in humanity and descending into the lack of ability to trust anyone. “Chateau du Mons,” written by Brozek, features a teen narrator stuck in a foreign land, and is one of the most hopeful stories in the collection as the girl decides to embrace the original intention of her home. Other stories feature narrators on the brink of madness: the narrator in Jeff Parish’s “Final Edition” is a reporter barely holding onto his sanity, if at all; in “Ink Blots,” an Australian woman is sure that the ink from articles she printed out before the computers all died has seeped into her skin and is causing her to go insane; and “Black Heart, White Mourning” features a narrator who was in a psych ward before the end of the world and is now free to do what she pleases. Kayley’s own story is left ambiguously in the Epilogue — her final journal entry does not reveal whether she ever makes it to Grants Pass, but I’d like to believe that she does, and that she finds all those people waiting for her there.

    As with most anthologies, some of the stories are stronger than others, some more to one reader’s taste than another’s. The middle of the anthology includes several stories where the narrators have little hope — or little enough sanity that whether or not they can realize their hope is doubtful — that the return to the successes of the characters in “Remembrance” is a breath of relief after so many things have gone wrong for other characters. But despite that weight in the middle, all of the stories have power — whether making the reader question what they might do at the end of the world, or whether the sacrifices of the characters make the reader’s breath catch in the throat, or gulp around the lump forming there. It’s a remarkable collection, and while occasionally the connection to Kayley’s original entry and the hope of Grants Pass seem tangential to the story, the anthology hangs well together as a whole. I highly recommend the book to readers who enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction in general, and to those who find the complex morality of human decision making in the face of everything falling apart in particular.

    Review by Alana Abbott

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