Bookworm: Concerned about climate change? Read ‘Trashlands’

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

“Trashlands: A Novel”

  • By Alison Stine
  • c. 2021, Mira
  • $27.99, $34.99 Canada; 384 pages

You gotta do what you gotta do. Whatever it takes to survive, nothing’s off the table in a crisis. Hunt, scrounge, gather, you’d do it if that was required. Anything to have a roof over your head and food in your belly, a few bucks for the basics, maybe an unnecessary gewgaw for comfort. Do what you gotta do in the new novel, “Trashlands” by Alison Stine ... or die.

“Trashlands: A Novel” by Alison Stine

Fresh, clean water from a pipe and heat from the floor.

Mr. Fall was the only one in Trashlands who was old enough to remember those things, and so most people were skeptical. Coral, though, had known Mr. Fall her entire life, and she knew he wouldn’t make things like that up. She supposed that in The Els, where damage from floods was minimal, people had clean water and heat but as a plucker in Scrappalachia, the only thing Coral knew for sure about was plastic.

Plucking, in fact, was the only way she had to make money. Her partner, Trillium, did tattooing for the girls who worked at Trashlands, the garishly-lit club that lent its name to the junkyard where everyone lived. Mr. Fall held school for children who might show up. Summer made clothes, Foxglove danced for men, they all relied on plastic as currency and so Coral spent her days plucking recyclable plastic from the brackish water of a nearby river.

She had to. She needed to save to buy her son’s freedom.

Shanghai was small when he was snatched, and that was the point: children’s hands were more adept at sorting plastic. Coral thought he’d still be at a factory, but which one was anyone’s guess. She often wondered what he’d be like now; back then, when he lived with her and Trillium, the boy was angry and dangerous; and she still wanted him back.

“Trashlands: A Novel” author Alison Stine.

He made her who she was. She loved him. He was the reason she stayed at Trashlands ...

So, you’re kind of concerned about climate change? Then take this warning and buckle your belt tight, because “Trashlands” is about to scare the pants off you.

Not in a jump-out-and-boo! sort of way, either: author Alison Stine maintains eerie calm and quiet here, with just enough blanks left unfilled to leave readers feeling the cringey kind of unease that happens when you’re anticipating something bad and oops, it’s tomorrow. The story isn’t really even dystopian; it’s more futuristic, set in a possible someday time when society is almost entirely feral and the gulf between has and has nothing is as wide as an ocean full of plastic garbage.

Start it, and you can smell the tale from your reading spot.

The prose feels sandy, but not pleasantly so.

Have fun thinking you know how this book ends but forget it, you don’t.

“Trashlands” isn’t exactly sci-fi, but just to the left of it and one step up. It’s a book to share with someone, quick, so you can discuss. If you love good future fiction, you gotta read it.

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“One Friday in April: A Story of Suicide and Survival”

  • By Donald Antrim
  • c. 2021, W.W. Norton
  • $25, $34 Canada; 141 pages

It’s just another ordinary day. You got up at basically the same time you do every morning. Have breakfast, brush teeth, same clothing, same routine, nothing new or remarkable or different. Yesterday, last week, tomorrow: all the same and that’s usually rather comforting. Unless, on “One Friday in April” by Donald Antrim, everything changes.

He didn’t want to jump. He didn’t want not to, either. Donald Antrim spent the whole afternoon that spring day on the roof of his building, up and down the escape ladder, swinging out and down, climbing, dirtying his hands, knowing he could die that day if he so chose.

"One Friday in April: A Story of Suicide and Survival" by Donald Antrim.

When he talked about his “long illness,” he called it “suicide” rather than “depression.” He “felt as if I’d been dying all my life.” Surely, it hadn’t been full of sunshine: his alcoholic mother was a victim of Munchausen syndrome by proxy; his grandmother had wrested him away from her when Antrim was born; his father was away for military duty then. He thought of that, how the family moved nearly constantly when he was a kid, the fears that plagued him then, and how he wrote about his mother “too soon” after her death.

Now, he felt like he needed a bullet to “eliminate an itch behind my temple.”

His partner was looking for him; he knew that. There was a helicopter in the sky above his building, but he wasn’t sure if they were looking for him, too. He’d have to go to the hospital, and that made him think of dungeons.

“One Friday in April: A Story of Suicide and Survival” author Donald Antrim.

He knew they’d shock him, give him medications, lock him in – and they did. His sickness “went on for more than a decade ... ” He’d be hospitalized many times, would receive “more than 50 rounds of electroconvulsive therapy.” He’d get better, relapse and re-recover.

But on that Friday night, he was cold. His fingers hurt from letting go of the railing, and then grabbing it at the last second.

“Might I ... regret my own death?”

Sounds like a novel, doesn’t it? The edge-of-your-seat anticipation, the fear, the despair making you dig in your fingernails in, holding your breath and waiting to see what happens. But this book is no novel. It’s all true. And once you’ve wriggled your way through it, you may never forget what happens “One Friday in April.”

In a voice that sometimes seems heartbreakingly emotionless, author Donald Antrim takes readers into his world, first with a brief outline of his early years, moving quickly to his time spent under the care of many doctors, and then beyond. For sure, his words evoke fear and unease, but there’s hope, too. Also, most strikingly, Antrim draws readers into his story, using “we” and “you” in passages that crowd and demand reflection. His tale, he reminds readers, could belong to a loved one, or it could be ours.

That makes this a small book that’s large inside, and it deserves time for thought. For any reader who can give it that, “One Friday in April” is extraordinary.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at marconews.com.