Jennifer Brozek had an idea for an anthology that wouldn't die. Oddly enough, it's about death. The stage is set with a blog entry by a young woman who ponders the question of what to do in the event of surviving an apocalypse. On her blog, she drafts an emergency plan for the end of the world, complete with a meeting place for survivors: Grants Pass.
Grants Pass is a funky little town in southern Oregon. I've actually been there. I remember decorative bears all over town and peanut butter pie at Karen's Kitchen. But I digress.
Kayley's plan to meet at Grants Pass is picked up by people all over the world, just before the earthquakes and plagues hit. When the world's population is nearly wiped out, her random, intellectual exercise becomes horribly relevant. What if Kayley really sets up in Grants Pass to rebuild? What if other people think she will? Will they be good people?
The stories that follow explore those questions and more. The strength of the anthology is the complex characters, none of them wholly good nor bad, who must wrestle with surviving an apocalypse. They all react differently.
In the first story, "An Unkindness of Ravens," by Stephanie Gunn, a New York City hooker has to fight off the only other survivor around. "Hells Bells," by Cherie Priest, is told by from the perspective of an orphaned girl left in a hospital. She and a few nurses are the only ones in the hospital who survive. She listens to the church bell and then rings her own little bell. As she gazes out the window at the bodies strewn everywhere, she imagines that the bells bring the deaths rather than the other way around.
In "Black Heart, White Mourning," by Jay Lake, a pyromaniac talks to her psychologist on a dead phone and meets a shy man on the bridge where she burns cars.
Two strangers, a man and a woman, get comfortable with one another in an English house by the sea in Rights of Passage (Pete Kempshell). Then another man of questionable motives offers them passage on his boat. He's going to Grants Pass.
"Final Edition" by Jeff Parish tells the tale of a reporter determined to keep the local paper going. He stands at the back of the chamber during this council meeting:
"Ducks in Lack Crook were staring at me again yesterday. This sort of impertinence simply cannot be allowed. I propose we form a subcommittee..."
The Mayor adjourned the meeting with a quick rap of his gavel. He stood and walked over to the council member who had so recently been the target of his wrath.
"No hard feelings, I hope, Frank. You raise some good points; I just wish you would learn to curb your enthusiasm a little. It's unbecoming in a man of your position." He leaned over to shake Frank's hand, which came off in his grip.
"Well now, that's embarrassing," Gary said with a chuckle as he pushed the mannequin's hand back into place.
The writers of these stories made fascinating choices of character types and threw together unlikely combinations, people whose paths would not normally cross.
Here are a few more unique pairings to spark your interest: An aging authoress and a young man with a drug problem; a computer geek and a drag queen; and a man hell-bent on revenge and a preacher.
The stories are set all over the globe, adding more depth and scope to the subject.
I was surprised that survivor guilt was not more evident in the stories, but it didn't detract from their powerful impact. The emotional turmoil of the characters haunted me for a while after finishing each story. Grants Pass is dark, but rich. Tragedy doesn't always bring out the best in people.
I look forward to the next anthology edited by Jennifer Brozek, which is already in the works and due out next year from Apex Book Company. And how's this for a pairing? Urban legends meet aliens. I can't wait!
An interview with Jennifer is available. Click here.