Friday, September 18, 2015

Book Review: PostApoc, by Liz Worth

Text (c) Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

By Liz Worth
Now or Never Publishing (Vancouver, BC), 2013
186 pages, paperback
ISBN: 978-1-926942-29-2

Ontario-based bard Liz Worth rose above the ranks of being known as an established poet with a book titled Amphetamine Heart (reviewed HERE) and a few chapbooks when she released one of the better narrative music chronicles, Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond (reviewed HERE).
Liz Worth
It is only natural to take a look at her first published novel, PostApoc, named after a song by the underground fictional band from the volume, Shit Kitten. It’s also a bit literal for the story as well, since the book takes place after that very event.

Without religious overtones but with a poetic timbre of the possible Rapture, or perhaps a global changing environment that has given up, apparently a large number of people have melted in a red rain or have imploded from the inside, and who is left are people trying to survive. In this case, we follow early 20s punk rock fan Ang (pronounced Anj) as her world gets increasingly narrow, striving for food, shelter, companionship and music.

Occurring after what is known as The End, the novel has a recurring theme of It’s my body and I’ll die if I want to. We learn that Ang was not just a fan of the band Valium, she was also the lover of the lead singer. The band and their followers, much like the Jim Jones’ group, decide it’s time to die. As described in the book:

We obsessed over self-destruction because that’s just what you did in those days. Even if they didn’t want to admit it, there were so many people who were ready to die. It was romance for a jaded generation. (9)

They all make a suicide pack, and Ang is the sole survivor, so music fans being what they are, they blame Ang for living. On some level, so does she.

In a sense of the more things change the more they stay the same, even with the hunger and thirst, there is still the desire for cigarettes and drugs. The most popular in this group is something called grayline, a mix of hallucinogen, opiate and possibly the ashes of the dead. While it’s addicting, it’s also not that easy to get, so the addiction does not gnaw as much as pulse. The cost from the dealer is a snuggle and a story. Even though Ang and her best friend Aimee live in a decrepit house with a group, it’s the pangs of loneliness that is as overwhelming as the one for food. And the grayline. “You’d think no one has anything to hide anymore, but there are still pills, secret stashes, hidden connections not everyone wants to share” (31). Or, to put it another way, “Sobriety is exhausting” (92)

While much of the world has changed dramatically, the emotions are the same. Through Ang’s poetic and possibly mind-altered vision, we see that, “This is how we live: either constantly on edge or constantly on the edge of oblivion.” (31) This is more than just Alice falling down the rabbit hole; it’s more coming out the other side.

Worth’s flowery language enhances the story rather than getting the way, such as when she is cuddling the drug dealing and free forming:

…I tell him I was happiest when I had forgotten there was a world before 2PM. I tell him about small crowded stages. I tell him about songs shrouded in reverberation. I tell him about bands I used to know and love that didn’t play music: they played our lives, connected knees to shins at all angles. I tell him about words that nudged and smudged the shine of our eyelids in a silver preamble, lyrics built out of the gradient of recovered memories and the breakdown of exposure. I tell him that we wore it all like a shield. Still do, though mostly only in our heads now, reduced to what we can remember. I tell him too much, but in the end he gives me everything I want: vodka, cigarettes and half a sheet of acid. (101)

Ang is frail, and yet she is a warrior, even when things are constantly falling, failing and flailing around her. We see her world through her eyes in first person, and over the course of the novel, as the grayline gets more into her system, her visions become ours. It’s not pretty, and sometimes it’s otherworldly, such as strange bangs and moans from the basement and attic that is assumed to be the ghosts of those who went before.

Through it all, there is the core of music, band that play electrically the few times it’s available or acoustic when it’s not. There’s no Xeroxed posters, no cell phones, and no computers (none of which are barely even mentioned through the book). Instead, it’s more technologically basic:

“There’s a show tonight,” Trevor says. We hear of these things by watching for writing on dusty windows and handwritten posters pegged into the telephone poles with the stems of lost earrings and old staples. (102)

The book is both beautiful and painfully unflinching. The use of language is flowery when needed, and at other times minimalist. It envisions a time when exhaustion, sweat and hunger of various needs has permeated everything.

Because of the shift of reality from the drugs and hunger, unusual images are used to throw off the reader in interesting ways (such as a praying mantis woman with two heads). What is real and what is hallucinated is left up to the reader.

The book kept my attention until the end, wanting to know what happens to the characters, especially Ang. It’s beautifully written, and is bound to unnerve in a good way. Poetic novels can sometimes get frustrating as the cryptic messages get lost in words and syntax, but Worth knows how to weave the tangents into a form that keeps the flow going. That’s pretty impressive, especially from a first published work of fiction.

As a sidenote that I believe Worth will see as bemused, throughout the book, in the back of my head, somewhere I kept hearing the Diodes singing, “Tired of Waking Up Tired.”

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