(Rochester, NY: BOA Editions, 2019)
Molly Reid’s The Rapture Index: A Suburban Bestiary is a stunning debut of interlacing short stories that, together, offer a warning about a human society that sees itself as disconnected from the natural world. The book interrogates humans’ relationships with each other and with animals, with one often impacting the other in a drastic, sometimes fatal way. Yet at no time does the book feel dramatic or overwrought; rather, its tone is, by turns, matter-of-fact, understated, and humorous. It is this narrative quality that gives the book its power to elicit thought and to function as cultural commentary of the highest order.
Romantic relationships are at the center of the collection, but the family unit also receives significant attention, as do other kinds of connections such as neighbors and school ties, whether fellow students or teachers. Loss is a strong presence in the book; coping with the loss of a spouse and the impending loss of a pet both get space. In the story where a woman has been widowed, she reflects on talking to her daughter’s teachers, them offering her sympathy and condolences on having to raise a child alone. But the narrator thinks,
She wants to tell them it’s not very different from what it’s always been. There are simply fewer points to connect. Someday there will no longer be any further permutations, all possible lines from A to B drawn, and then what? Then there will be nothing for any of them to do but erase, wash it off, press delete, and start over.
This lamentation also describes what the author suggests, again and again — that the end of the world is coming and, whether we accept that or not, the ground has been laid for disaster. Our survival is intricately linked to that of others, both human and animal, and for far too long, we’ve allowed ourselves the fantasy that it’s not and allowed this delusion to guide our behavior.
Technology is another benchmark in this collection, with one startling short musing on a 3D printer that takes on a life of its own; “the printer printed other printers that kept on printing.” The couple who own the 3D printer begin to print things they don’t mean to and their house overflows with the printer’s creations – “the printer seemed to be reading our dreams. We’d fall asleep to its careful repetitions like a squeaky bed, the smell of melting plastic, and wake to Nixon masks and trick snakes. One morning I found the dog I had as a child, Singapore, curled up half his original size and lime green at my feet.” In the end, the humans themselves seem to morph into 3D printers, with hearts and sailboats tumbling out of their mouths. All they can do is try to stop their minds, but it seems too late to turn off the warped technology that has overtaken them.
In “Bestiary VI: Laundromat Bobcat,” mayoral candidates take different positions on a bobcat that has inhabited the local laundromat. The winning candidate advocates human-animal coexistence, despite people being torn limb to limb by the bobcat. “It’s important to maintain some wildness at the edges, to remind people there are boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed, natures that just shouldn’t be troubled.”
In the final story of the collection, the book ends with a question we’re likely to ponder after reading these stories: “When will we own up to the fact that we ourselves are animals, most fully alive as we stalk and slink and howl – and maybe, the real problem is, that we ever tried to pretend otherwise?”
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Cynthia-Marie Marmo O’Brien writes and edits in New York. Her nonfiction on faith, depression, and the imagination from the Bellevue Literary Review was a notable selection in Best American Essays 2011. She has contributed to America: The National Catholic Review, Killing the Buddha, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Narratively, Real Pants, The Rumpus, and Words Without Borders: Dispatches, among other publications. A graduate of Columbia University’s MFA program, she has taught writing in the United States and Europe. Find more from her at her website or @CMMOB on Twitter.