Matt Bell is the Senior Editor at Dzanc Books and the author of the collection, How They Were Found, and the novella, Cataclysm Baby. His work has appeared in Conjunctions, Hayden's Ferry Review, Gulf Coast, & Willow Springs, and has been anthologized in Best American Mystery Stories and Best American Fantasy.
"In extraordinary language, with deep feeling, Matt Bell has crafted a baby name book for the apocalypse, a gorgeous, brilliant, often darkly hilarious and always moving novella."
"Cataclysm Baby is both surreal and vividly concrete, as much a Feeling Experiment as a Thought Experiment. The trope of end time is always about revelation, and what is revealed here, among other things, is Bell's brutal compassion."
"Matt Bell's collection of condensed narraticules, Cataclysm Baby, is Avant-Gothic at its most remarkable, unsettling, potent."
"Here is the alphabet of the pulsing apocalypse that is fatherhood, a book in love with what words, like parents, create: beauty, terror, awe."
You know when someone develops a deep love for a movie, TV show, book, or video game and, before too long, it’s all they’ll talk about? Or how repugnant your sister is in the first few weeks of her new romance? We, as humans, are compelled to express our deep love for things, a habit which will murder your relationships unless you find people who love the same things you do (the reason people who like weird stuff like dubstep and electrocution tend to gather together).
This isn’t really a recommendation that you buy this book. Matt Bell’s name on the cover should be all the incentive you need to do that. But when you buy Matt Bell’s Cataclysm Baby, which you absolutely should, I’d recommend you buy at least a dozen copies, or one for each friend and family member you’d miss when they get tired of you obsessively talking about this book and stop returning your calls. Supplying all your loved ones with copies is an invitation into your new-found pleasure and will hopefully keep them from having sudden emergencies just as you arrive and staging interventions.
And talk about this book you will. You’ll talk about Bell’s prose, some of his finest yet, which has something of the biblical in it, something of the prophecy. About how you can imagine these stories told in dusty, burned-out rooms by grizzled fathers with thousand-yard stares sliding down the other side of survival. You’ll talk about this passage, and dozens more like it:
The day [my son] turns thirteen, he tells me I will wait three more months before I sneak into his room and read his diary, and that by then it will be too late.
He says, I know you could save us if you read it today, but I know you won’t.
You’ll talk about the references, the intelligent re-workings of Greek mythologies, Arthurian legends, and biblical stories. The Sirens make an appearance as three daughter mimics, luring villagers out into the floods destroying their world. A man, driven by the ghosts of his daughters, builds tower after tower, not to get closer to God, but to find the voice of his wife. A tanker carrying the world’s last women floats off the West coast, waiting for the world to be clean enough to deserve their return. A man chooses his own calf-child for sacrifice in a lottery. Bell’s handling of the sources is elegant, keeping to the core of what the stories are about, and might provide enough conversation material to ensure that your favorite barista will never ask how your day is going again.
You will probably, more than anything else, talk most about the endless variety Bell achieves, despite adhering to a restrictive formula. In almost every story, children are born deformed, mutated, something other, into a drying out or burning or drowning world. Of course, Bell shows off his impressive imaginative range with the “wrong-born” infants: some only balls of fur, some born as only invisible puffs of air.
What keeps Cataclysm Baby from being just another menagerie of impossible disasters are the variations in the fathers themselves, who each struggle to deal with the guilt, anger, pride, and obligation fatherhood brings with it, apart from the apocalypse-fractured world outside the window. Some fathers regard their strange children with single-minded affection, others with scorn. Some sacrifice their mutated children, and some others sacrifice themselves. As the lights go out on the human race, some cling to hope that their children represent some sort of future, while others hold onto only what they can. The family dramas, the reality of the fathers in these stories trying to hold onto a world that inexorably spins away, keep these stories from being just another meditation on the ways the world could end.
And the end. You will talk about the ending, the last chapter.
Obviously, this is the kind of book that can leave a reader sitting by himself on the bus, other passengers clutching purses and children while he mutters under his breath about how no one reads great books anymore. You don’t want to be that guy, so get a dozen copies. More if you actually like your family.