Disasters: Imaginary & Otherwise

Some of the books I've been thinking about lately seem unsettlingly well-matched to our strange times. Consider Yun Ko-Eun's The Disaster Tourist (Counterpoint, translated by Lizzie Buehler). Yona Kim is a program manager for a Korean travel company that specializes in "surveying disaster zones and molding them into travel destinations‚Ķ. Learning about misfortune was what Yona did." Even as I read this novel last summer, I was past wondering who might book such a trip (see Chernobyl tours). Ironically, thousands of people had just been rescued from Covid-laced cruise ships worldwide.

hell 1Then there was Chris Martin's well-timed poetry collection Things to Do in Hell (Coffee House Press). From the title poem: "DVR Homeland/ Imagine that hell is only an abstraction/ Take another free breath mint/ Cry out endlessly/ Blame those closest to you/ Love even the barest light pissing through the trees."

In nonfiction, I finally read Jessica Bruder's excellent book (now a movie) Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century (Norton), which explores the lives of "workampers" who hit the road as "a survival strategy in an era when Americans were getting priced out of traditional housing and struggling to make a living wage... And as bad as the situation is now, it's likely to get worse. That makes me wonder: What further contortions--or even mutations--of the social order will appear in years to come? How many people will get crushed by the system? How many will find a way to escape it?" Good questions all.

And soon Super Bowl LV will be played in a nearly empty Tampa Bay stadium, an odd complement (parallel universe?) to Don DeLillo's new novel The Silence (Scribner), in which characters are watching a Super Bowl on TV in a Manhattan apartment when a planet-wide blackout occurs. "Is this the casual embrace that marks the fall of world civilization?" someone wonders. The suspense is killing me. I'd better keep reading. --Robert Gray, editor