For nearly four weeks now, I’ve been practicing social distancing with my husband, our three kids, and one geriatric dog who can’t hold his bladder. When I’m not homeschooling or making beans or wiping up dog urine, I’ve thought a lot about what kind of art will come out of this crisis. What fiction, specifically.
It won’t all be good.
Below are just a few transmissions from Publishing Future.
Social Distance Warrior
Before the global pandemic known as Covid-19 forced her indoors with her cat Bernie, Angela Morales was a passionate community organizer who regularly marched in protests, called her senators, and went online to cancel society’s worst. Now, stuck inside with a crate of wine (thanks, Mom) and a tower of canned food (thanks, Dad), Angela is alternately scared and bored. Before she knows it, she’s engaging daily, then hourly, with her most vicious online troll, the right-wing, Incel member known only as @MarkMAGA. Is it possible, in this crisis, to become friends with your worst enemy? Maybe even more than friends? LOL funny and NSFW sexy, Social Distance Warrior shows us that opposites really do attract, especially when all you’ve got is a modem, a cat, and a steady diet of Spaghetti-O’s.
It’s March 2020 and the coronavirus has swept the country. Citing an abundance of caution, Giles College, a small, elite liberal arts school tucked away in the woods of New Hampshire, sends everyone home. Or almost everyone. Three college freshmen—field hockey teammates Lara and Rachel, along with their friend Manuel—defy the order and hide in the college cafeteria. There, they confess their deepest fears and secrets, have a little fun, and, of course, stress eat…thus gaining “The Covid-19.” But within a week, this once happy-go-lucky alliance begins to falter. When they discover that an enigmatic senior, Fiona F., and her English professor, Dr. Harris, are also hiding out, things take a dark turn. Haunting and delicious, suspenseful and thoughtful, The Covid-19 is The Secret History meets The Art of Fielding meets She’s Come Undone meets Wonder Boys meets The Middlesteins meets Lucky Jim meets The Breakfast Club.
From an outdoor market in China’s Wuhan Province, to a purse-stitching factory in Milan, to an elder care facility in the suburbs of Seattle, The Spread follows the coronavirus as it proliferates across the world, caring not for borders or race, only a rapacious need to infect—and connect. This is a sweeping and searing tapestry of a portrait of an infinity pool of a novel about humanity’s vulnerability, penned by one of our greatest contemporary storytellers, where even the virus’s spiky genome is given its own consciousness and rendered in luminous yet mischievous prose. All it takes is this single continent-leaping, genre-bending novel to prove that we are all the same beautiful, fallible species with dirty hands and dirtier saliva. The Spread reminds us that what we’re most susceptible to isn’t disease…but love.
It’s been almost two years since Hannah gave up her career in publishing to raise her daughter, Olive, and three years since she put on anything besides maternity jeans. Her pelvic floor sags like a hammock and she can’t remember the last time she didn’t smell like curdled breast milk or didn’t stay up until two a.m, leaving snarky comments on various Mommy message boards. But all this seems frivolous now that she and her husband, Ben, are quarantined with Olive in their cramped Brooklyn apartment as the coronavirus brings New York to its knees. When Ben isn’t locked in the bedroom making his glitchy conference calls for work, he’s riding anxiety attacks about the state of the world and begging Hannah to don their single dingy surgical mask and gloves to pick up yet another box of Honey Nut Cheerios. With nothing to do but occupy Olive and appease Ben, Hannah feels her sanity crumbling. Then she misses her period. Faced with another possible pregnancy, she can’t stop thinking about the episiotomy she begged for when Olive was born, and which she and Ben are still paying off via their health insurance’s installment plan; how when she masturbates, she can’t get fellow BabyCenter user MomtoMaddox447 out of her head; how Olive looks so much like Ben that Hannah wants to vomit; that sometimes she imagines cutting off her own arms and legs and hoisting her bleeding torso into her rollaway suitcase and zipping it up (with her teeth) and rotting there forever. And how all this is better than her old publishing job where she was regularly expected to kiss the egomaniacal asses of Bookstagrammers who never read the novels they posed next to succulents and mugs of bone broth. What if she contracted coronavirus, just to be alone? What if she went to buy cereal and never came back? In the tradition of Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation and Lydia Kiesling’s The Golden State, with a soupçon of Ali Wong’s irreverence and Cardi Bi’s social media sass, Stay-at-Home Mom is an unflinching and pitch-perfect portrayal of motherhood during our biggest contemporary crisis. Ask yourself, are you a good mom?
My Mother and Other Respirators: Stories
The sparkling, foaming 12 stories about families struggling during the coronavirus crisis of 2020 shed new light on how family at once soothes and alienates. In “Shelter in Place,” Mac’s Boomer parents insist the global pandemic “will probably just blow over,” and he must grapple with their loosening grip on reality. In “I Love You, Dr. Fauci,” Meredith and her mother bond over the wise words of the disease expert until Meredith realizes her mother is having an affair with another man named Dr. Fauci, a dentist two towns over. In the title story, Darren’s mother is an ER nurse, beloved by many, except Darren himself—off duty, his mom is a real bitch. My Mother and Other Respirators is a stunning debut story collection by a wunderkind author, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a current Stegner Fellow. She was born in 1996, so she is a truly young and nubile voice, pure and virginal, her publishing hymen thoroughly intact. She was in kindergarten when 9-11 happened, so the Covid-19 virus was the first tragedy to really pierce her as an adult and her words about it are refreshing and true and will surely burst onto the scene with elan.
This novel is about a writer stuck at home during a global pandemic, trying to find value in made-up worlds and pretty sentences while hospital workers beg for personal protective equipment and the death toll rises exponentially with each passing day. The writer opens the document of the novel she was working on before Covid-19 began to spread across the world. She laughs. Closes it. She opens a new document, cursor blinking. And blinking. She turns away. Picks up her phone. Bakes some banana bread. Cries. Looks at her phone again. The cursor is still blinking.