cover image Last Week's Apocalypse

Last Week's Apocalypse

Douglas Lain, . . Night Shade, $14.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-1-59780-034-1

Being paranoid provides no reason to doubt that They are not out to get you, as Lain's ambitious postmodern story collection proves. In homage to past warriors against totalitarianism, contemporary Winston Smiths battle the trap of capitalism's ever-receding promise of a meaningful life via meaningless work ("Instant Labor"). Picking among the castoffs of baby boomer consumerism, Lain's Gen-X protagonists desperately try to construct an identity in a culture where novelty undermines authenticity. The simplicity of sea monkeys ("The Sea Monkey Conspiracy") and the rigidity of the Cold War ("I Read the News Today") are the closest to fixed values that can be found, and even they are uncertain at best. Characters learn, via a malfunctioning holographic Jesus ("How to Stop Selling Jesus"), that salvation is not granted but attained. Lain intrudes in his narratives, exploiting metafictive devices like direct address and references to other stories, tying a character's quest for identity to his own quest to unravel the stifling logic of America's malled-in society. Distracting typographic tricks contribute to the atmosphere of uncertainty. (Feb.)