We are in Southern California, in years not very far hence. We are not post, but rather, let's say, mid-apocalypse. Not the cataclysmic event of "science fiction," it is in process, happening, very slowly, all around us. "Over there" is perpetual warfare, of the kind that seems already to have started in the Middle East, in certain African countries, and elsewhere around the world. Young men are sent there, without apparent hope of any eventual return. At home, "the trouble." Social norms, social mores no longer apply...
Sound familiar? This is the world of William Luvaas's Ashes Rain Down, a collection of 10 interconnected stories that was published in 2013 and should, by rights, have been received with far greater acclaim. I suspect it might be in danger of slipping below the literary horizon line, which would be a shame and an injustice. It should be read. Unhappily, it is a totally believable world. Happily, for us, as readers, it is part tragedy -- but also part tell-all reality show and part sheer, exuberant, uninhibited farce.
Luvaas peoples his world with a ragtag bunch of survivors, some hold-overs from the hippie days of the 1960s, some Jesus freaks and biker gangs, some redneck hillbillies, along with a handful of wandering tribes of ne'er-do-wells and marauders. Psycho- and sociopaths, bipolar paranoids and schizophrenics all, they squabble over the meager living to be scratched out amid the intolerable heat and drought that alternate with the disastrous wind-, dust- and rainstorms that result from a rapidly deteriorating natural environment. Lacking much in the way of drugs or alcohol -- let alone food -- their chief distraction is, well, fornication. And they do a lot of that, in sweating desperation.
Reading these stories, we begin to sort out individuals who pop in and out of the events in no particular sequence. Luvaas proves a master of colloquial voices, each one of them different and distinguishable, and we enjoy the constantly shifting tone of the narrative as much as the frequently outlandish events. In a world gone so very much awry, what remains is the oddly surviving nobility of which our species is capable, even in desperate times. This is a world in which humanity is in extremis, clinging on to survival by its ragged fingernails.
We are left with a remnant of hope -- but with the knowledge that we are already too far along this path to a bleak, perhaps inevitable future. We are surrounded by constant and ubiquitous evidence of a changing global climate. We are entangled in seemingly endless wars abroad, and at home our social fabric shows increasing signs of wear and tear. Our infrastructure is on the verge of collapse. We dispense with common civility in favor of a crass me-firstism that threatens to destroy all sense of mutual responsibility and care for the well-being of our fellow humans.
And we are too easily distracted by popular culture, sensationalism, and the melee of social media from powerfully thoughtful voices like William Luvaas', whose wildly creative cautionary tale is so relevant, so urgent, and so timely, and whose literary spunk and sparkle should assure it a place on everyone's bestseller list.