Apocalypse Then by Rick DeMarinis
Rick Demarinis once, rather boldly, opined the short story is more related to poetry than the novel. He is already the author of eight novels and Apocalypse Then is his latest collection of short stories – of which he has recently been labeled an avatar in this field. But is it poetic?
Apocalypse Then is published by Seven Stories Press whose past authors are well noted. It opens with an eponymously titled novella telling the sorry tale of Moss, a Defence Technician burdened by time, in a loose mish-mash of tenuously linked stories that span a number of years, all concentrating on his slow, plodding Sisyphean progress throughout his dreary existence. Within the first pages of Apocalypse Then Demarinis delivers his habitual themes: the achingly ordinary passing of time in a doomed climate, the waiting of something (anything) good or bad to happen, spiritual hope, impotence, inertia, physical deformity and decay, characters weathered by alcohol abuse and evanescent sexual liaisons. Throw in a handful of fraught relationships, inter-marital boredom, pony’s called Sisyphus, UFO’s and an alarming presence of God and you’ve just about got it.
Demarinis’ prose is cinematic in feel and movement which should give it a lightness of touch, but it doesn’t, Demarinis lacks such deftness and the collection is anchored down by an intermittently lazy, turgid and clumpy prose-style. Demarinis hangs over the collection like an omnipotent spectre and it is quite hard to shake his studied presence out of the text. His designs hover brusquely above each character, starving them of the autonomy they deserve and all seem to have been press-ganged into scenarios beyond their comprehension – and maybe this is Demarnis’ point: that all is constructed, that all is fated and beyond our powers, that all is, in fact, created. Who knows?
Let’s get back to this sluggish prose-style, in The Bear Itself, for example, Moss observes a young Scandinavian woman undress to take a swim. She's duly described as looking “...like a Scandinavian goddess who’d materialized out of the pages of some ancient Viking Saga.” (Pg 18). I’m sorry, I may be nitpicking but I have no idea what a Scandinavian goddess from a Viking Saga looks like and I have the sneaky suspicion neither does Rick Demarinis. Joking aside, Apocalypse Then’s themes are hammered home to such an extent the whole collection becomes extremely repetitive in content, to the degree of Demarinis, at times, falling into the trap of explaining his own subtle (and none too subtle) metaphors. Each of Demarinis’ male characters is suffering from some physical deformity whether it is a low sperm count, impotence, colonic cancer or small lactating breasts. His female characters are out there, on the edge, kooky and artistic. All are looking for something else other than each other. Surely Demarinis could have contemplated different ways to illustrate the underbelly of society before gathering this collection, his backdrop is the vast sprawl of America after all? But please, don’t allow my judgment to steer you away from this collection.
Aside from its pretensions Apocalypse Then, on the whole, has a lot to offer. The stories are readable and when the hackneyed metaphor is left behind they are most enjoyable. Stand outs are A Forty-Nine-Pound Man, Bête Noire and Handyman which all display rich quirky humour that should leave you quite satisfied. In fact, when Demarinis forgets about his underlying themes and concentrates solely on human folly, narrative and interaction he is a pleasure to read and often his studied caricature works. But, then again, it still wasn’t enough to remove the overriding tang from my mouth: Apocalypse Then is the existential musings of a rather staid and conservative mind. Poetic? Not really. Laboured? Yes.