Parasites Like Us

Sorry about the lack of updates, I am a horrible blog-human. Here is a post I wrote way back at the end of May but never posted. The issue of the heat was painfully relevant once again this weekend (for the third time this summer, young though it is)…

With the hot hot heat of a Genevois May upon us, I’ve been laying low in the cool darkness of my room for much of the weekend. If you had popped your head in you might have found me reclined on my bed with a sprig of mint between my teeth, the leaves bruised and smelling sweat and tangy of its rum and tonic marinade. At other times the beverage was instead a cool tea swirled languorously in my Japanese ceramics. And yes, the rumors are true, cherries forming the majority of a kilo did go missing, but the case is still open: No, officer, I don’t know anything about that pile of pits in the corner. … No, I can’t say that I noticed any sticky-lipped characters passing through. … Me? I’ve just been sitting here reading my book, minding my own business. I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful, my memory seems to have faded with the brisk breezes of winter.

What little evidence this eye-witness can provide is that the book in question was outstanding. I began reading Parasites Like Us a couple weeks ago, but until now I have only progressed in fits (a few pages before bed and such). This weekend, though, the remainder of the book was swallowed up whole with a big eye-watering glug. Parasites is the first novel by an author who greatly impressed me with his short story collection, Emporium. The novel is an eloquent account of the final days of humanity as we now know it, told to the readers of a new world born from the handful of survivors. The narrator is a professor of anthropology who, before precipitating the apocalypse, is mostly consumed with the taming of his two graduate students and his own stubborn sense of loss. It is introspective, grizzly, and observant. It does, as advertised, feature flaming pigs.

I found it notable that the author of Parasites, Adam Johnson, in his short blog (see the June 28, 2005 entry), mentioned the other book I just finished reading, Ryan Harty’s Bring Me Your Saddest Arizona. It is an intense series of short stories, poignant slices of lives in transition or desperate for it, and a great example of short story telling. It packs in far more loneliness and desperation than is ever found in Parasites’ apocalypse (which is an oddly matter-of-fact, and even uplifting, tale of an apocolypse). The title is plain, it is a recollection of some of the saddest moments that the sprawling suburbia of the desert southwest might plausibly muster. The sadness, though, is less Where the Red Fern Grows and more the sort that lingers in the background during those indefinite periods of transition between life’s meaningful milepost like jobs, friends, or lovers. Solid resolution is sandwiched between desperation for purpose. Time passes, lives change, so why does everything seem to stay the same? It is as if they characters are waiting for something, and yet they can’t imagine what. Will that something come tomorrow or was it twenty years ago? The emptiness and desperation is compelling because it is subtle and real. Dramatic things happen, and they have to be acknowledged; but, we can’t spend our lives weeping in a corner, we move on. So the question becomes, when and where to? Maybe we aren’t far away. In summary, here is an appropriate quote

Everything suddenly looked so odd it was hard to believe it had looked normal at one time, and that made him feel better. It was almost possible to imagine a time when the last several days might seem strange and far away, too, when he might look back on them with a kind of detached wonder. But he didn’t want to let them pass too quickly. There was a pleasure to what he felt, along with the pain, and he understood that to let it go would be to suggest the worst of life—that it was transitory and random, quick to forget.

I highly recommend the book.

Leave a Comment