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Showing 1-10 of 29 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 46 reviews
on December 15, 2014
I found this book to be neither wonderful, definitely not deserving of the accolades listed on the product page, nor terrible. It's just ok. I would certainly never go so far as to say it has "Gorgeously crafted stories," or that it is "Hauntingly beautiful." It's just a collection of inoffensive short stories that all deal, in some way or another, with the decline of humanity.

I usually enjoy short story collections; I enjoy allowing my imagination to complete the story. However, McHugh failed, in my opinion, to really provide much to fuel the reader's imagination. With the exception of the titular story, the last in the collection, I finished each story and said to myself, "OK, well no one can ever say that I didn't read that story." Even now, a few days after finishing the collection, I can only remember 2 of the stories; the rest are just forgettable little vignettes. The characters didn't make any kind of impression on me, nor did the stories ever really make me stop and ask myself any challenging questions.

If you're looking for something that's easy to read in little snippets, on the toilet for example, you have my blessing. If you're looking for a collection of stories that really examine the human condition after the apocalypse, look elsewhere.
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on February 2, 2013
Despairing about the proliferation of the generally repetitive short story collection? Fear and tremble not, for After the Apocalypse is here to save the day.

Maureen F. McHugh's collection continually conjured up the word "solid" and not in a patronizing way that one might use that word to politely describe an artistic effort that follows all the rules yet fails to captivate one's attention or stimulate any of the other nerves in want of stimulation from art--but in the sense that it was taken in as a dose of fresh air in comparison to cripplingly overworked prose and/or gimmickry-qua-formal-innovation that functions as a blanket to cover the hollowed out innards of "the story."

As much as I really do love innovative, acrobatic prose--replete with highly varied word choice and a striving for originality at the level of the sentence and the overall tonal vision--I also find myself able to see the value in the simple sentence (when put to good narrative use, of course). This calls to mind something I read recently as part of George Saunders' preface to the latest edition of his debut collection CivilWarLand In Bad Decline:

In grad school I had grown suspicious of conventional literary beauty, wary of what I thought of as, for example, the literary triple descriptor: "Todd sat at the black table, the ebony plane, the dark-hued bearer of various glasses and plates, whose white, disk-shaped, saucer-like presences mocking his futility, his impotence, his inability to act."

Christ, I had come to feel, just say it: "Todd sat at the table."

This book also functions as a shock-to-the-system antidote to the naval-gazing narcissistic focus upon the singular character (often a poorly veiled stand-in for the writer) that is abundant in fiction and not merely in coming-of-age novels et al, but also in "innovative" short story collections. I recently posted a thought about this on a highly trafficked social networking site, which hyperbolically sums up this long-simmering feeling about the need for less singularly focused art:

There is no protagonist in real life. It's an ensemble cast of an immensity beyond practical quantification. Scatter the illusion of the central "I" and open up the floodgates. I'd like art to reflect this more often. Films starring no one. Novels with more POVs than pages.

After the Apocalypse is a heaven-sent answer to this desire for artists to portray a wider spectrum of humanity.

--Violent sociopathic criminals struggle against the elements and each other in a cliché-free and grittily realistic zombie narrative.

--Chinese biotech factory workers dance on street corners to Sri Lankan hip hop and battle their corporate master's cycle of tyrannical debt.

--A woman's internet business branches out from making infant dolls for bereaved parents into more lucrative adult-only goods, while dealing with the struggle between being kind to strangers down on their luck and having to be more suspicious and reserved towards said strangers out of rational self-preservation.

--A journalist seeks answers about a boy who's undergone a radical identity shift after a terrorist act has torn his community and family asunder.

--Computer programmers delve into the possibilities of Artificial Intelligence (and the nature of consciousness) while prodding a virtual medical database during their routine graveyard shifts.

--People contemplate abandoning America...

--A McDonald's employee asserts herself, undergoes the risks of being a guinea pig for medical research, and takes herself on a honeymoon.

--Mad Cow Disease unfolds within an unconventional family unit.

--Society collapses and people react in a multitude of ways--gratitude returns but also morphs into base selfishness. Silver linings are birthed and snuffed out unevenly.

A common theme throughout all of this is a fear of economic and social upheaval. It's currently pretty apt for US fiction to be concerned with such menacing vibrations. McHugh displays a wide reach of knowledge about many subjects and shows a real talent for sculpting vivid characters out of the clay of the wide-angled view as well. The visions are often breathtakingly bleak but there's room to exhale and reflect in the space between fact and fiction, which is a truly vital service for fiction writers to provide.
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on February 12, 2012
I bought this Kindle edition after reading a rave review by Michael Dirda of the Washington Post. Maureen F. McHugh really knows how to set up a story and hook the reader. Tremendous turns of phrase as well. I did miss solid endings in most of the stories though. In many of them, the action just...stopped. I understand why she does that, I think. It's as if she's saying, "There are no neat endings. Life, especially after the apocalypse, is not linear with a beginning, middle, and ending. I'll set up the story for you, create some interesting characters, but you, dear reader, must do the rest. Like you yourself would have to do if *you* found yourself alive After the Apocalypse." And that's legitimate. But not for every story. If some of these stories had a solid conclusion, even one you didn't like, this collection would easily gain my fifth star.

Fans of modern science fiction and elegant writing will like this book a lot. This Kindle edition is definitely worth the price. A couple of typos but nothing serious. The stories, and the book, are short. But they all grab you and stick with you. It's where and how they leave you off that I think needs improvement.
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on July 5, 2014
McHugh's stories are short, intense, gripping, interesting, and unexpected. They're profoundly disturbing, if only because their post-apocalyptic landscapes are so hauntingly familiar, so close to our own. In the best of the them, character, plot, and idea all come together in a way that leaves the reader breathless, frightened, and wanting more. In the worst of them (and these are still pretty darn good), they fall just a little short of being emotionally or cognitively complete... a frustration akin to a mental splinter. Having never read McHugh before, these stories were a pleasant surprise that I read voraciously; I fully expect to read her other works because of them.
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on June 5, 2012
This collection of short fiction explores several ways a world could end, from the Zombie Apocalypse to massive economic collapse. What sounds like a potential downer of a collection is -- surprisingly -- a real joy to read. McHugh's prose is clean and clear, and her characters are brave, sympathetic, and contradictory.

And the questions! What happens to liberal values when every day is a life or death struggle? When a computer program shows signs of conscious thought, is it murder to turn it off? How ethical is it, really, to ask people to volunteer for drug trials when there's a risk of terrible consequences?

This is quiet brilliance, dressed up in a shambling, stinking zombie's clothes. Recommended.
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on May 6, 2012
I enjoyed reading this book very much. The stories were all rather unusual and thought-provoking. It's scary that some of these are pretty much right on target in terms of what will happen when we DO have some sort of apocalypse - and with the way things are going, nothing is getting worked on and our climate will change drastically. The only thing I didn't like was one description of my hometown, Albuquerque, as not attractive even before the climate change. While it sounds like the author knows New Mexico, she clearly needs a lesson in the better aspects of ABQ before the climate change happens. Other than that, I very much liked that story and all the other ones.
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on March 20, 2014
So if you're looking to read something and start to get really interested then turn the page and try to start another story then this is for you. Just be aware every chapter is a new story in the same world. Each chapter is very interesting but I would love to read more about them. It seems like every chapter is actually like the 4th chapter of different book. Very little character development and not much of a conclusion. Yet each one was fairly interesting.
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on July 5, 2012
A collection of literary short stories, all taking place after an apocalyptic event of one type or another (epidemic, dirty bomb attack, zombie outbreak), the focus here is on the characters more than story. Definitely more "The Road" than "The Stand," the stories are mostly gems with my favorites being the first one which has zombies and the last one, from which the book gets its name. But the writing is magnificent throughout with an emphasis more on creating people who are real than characters who are likable or heroic.
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on October 30, 2013
I read great reviews about this book, but quite frankly, I was a bit bored. The book features different stories about different zombie encounters. Unfortunately, the stories don't go into a lot of detail and they're very short, and often quite boring. It wasn't an awful read, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it either.
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on May 12, 2012
I've read Maureen McHugh's "Useless Things" at least three times now, and I admire it more with each rereading. It appears just a bit less than halfway through McHugh's thought-provoking short story collection, After the Apocalypse. The first-person narrator is a woman living well outside Albuquerque, New Mexico, in a time when the United States seems on the brink of collapse: the economy is terrible, and water is extremely scarce in the Southwest -- a time that doesn't feel very far away from today. The narrator lives hand-to-mouth making dolls, particularly dolls called "reborns" that look almost, but not quite, real. She's alone in her house but for her friendly dogs most days, which only makes her nervous when South American laborers crossing the border stop by her house looking for a meal in exchange for labor. She's apparently on some list shared by these illegal immigrants as a kind woman who always has a handout. She doesn't like it, but she can't bring herself to turn these men away. But when she returns from an errand one day to find that her hospitality has been abused, she makes a few decisions about how to go on. This is a quiet story, one that describes a couple of days during which something bad happens -- nonviolent, but certainly distressing - and the changes that follow. But it says much about what one will do when pushed just beyond the stretched yet tolerable limits by which one lives.

"Useless Things" is typical of McHugh's writing. Always quiet and matter-of-fact, her stories seem so real that you can hardly believe they aren't happening in the next county over. In "The Naturalist," for instance, we learn early on that the zombie problem has been pretty much handled by the government, with the remaining creatures -- the ultimate trash, worse than guys who cooked meth or fat women on WIC -- isolated in zombie preserves. These areas are isolated by water, which the zombies won't cross, and do double-duty as prisons for the hard-core bad guys the government just wants dead. The story follows Cahill as he scavenges, kills zombies, deals with other prisoners, and tries to puzzle out how the zombies work as hunters and killers. Again, McHugh writes in an understated style, just telling her audience what happened and how. There are no big moments, just an accumulation of small ones, so that even the denouement seems natural. It's a powerful style, and a powerful story.

The same understated style is at work in "The Lost Boy: A Reporter At Large," the story of a boy who goes into a dissociative fugue following the detonation of two dirty bombs in Baltimore. He is separated from his family and raised in foster homes, never regaining his memory of his family until his mother shows up at his place of employment one day. The focus of the story, therefore, isn't on the dirty bombs; it's on the effect of those bombs on one family. The story is particularized, humanized, made into a character study instead of a thriller, and in this quiet way tells us much more about the societal effects of such an attack.

All nine of the stories in this slim but indispensable volume share this same restrained approach to storytelling, adjuring the larger story of how an apocalypse came about and its major effects on society for the personal, small stories the apocalypse created. The title story, "After the Apocalypse," doesn't even really have an apocalypse; as the story says, "Things didn't exactly all go at once. First there were rolling brownouts and lots of people unemployed.... Then the power started going out, more and more often. Pete's shifts got longer although he didn't always get paid.... Then the fires started on the east side of town. The power went out and stayed out." The world as we know it ends, not with a bang, but a whimper. There's no one who's going to fix things. McHugh writes about how a mother and her daughter survive, using the most primitive of instruments: the mother's body.

These stories are like individually polished and cut jewels. They're not fiery diamonds, but more like chalcedony, beautiful and unusual. Each story bears multiple readings. You'll want this collection on your shelf.
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