My Burned-Out New York Apocalypse Novel
by Jessanne Collins
National Novel Writing Month comes to an end tonight — at midnight! But our series about the novels that we started writing but, for whatever reason, never finished will carry on. Here’s the next entry.
Where are all my End of the World Party invitations? The characters in the novel I never finished — the promotion for which I foresaw myself being very busy with this month, incidentally, the timing of the book’s publication being part of my brilliant meta marketing concept — were buried in End of the World Party invitations by now. In the mid-pre-post-apocalyptic world I imagined, December 23, 2012 was the new New Year’s.
These parties would be taking place in spackle-spattered lofts with windows held together with duct tape in foreclosed luxury apartments on the Williamsburg waterfront. People would be snorting generic pharmaceuticals off those glass cutting boards that look like orange slices. They would be wearing disco ball dresses pillaged from the dumpster behind Buffalo Exchange, which had gone out of business, and pumps from Payless, which had come into style.
That’s how I envisioned it in 2009, anyway, when one morning I awoke from a sort of lucid dream in which the End of the World festivities are interrupted by an unexpected televised event. I should say here that at the time I had three stalled novels in progress. The fatal flaw in all them was my abysmal plot-developing skills. But that dream had a plot. And it felt like a gift from the Universe. A Universe that, at least in REM state, I occasionally ruminate on the end of. It felt like a novel.
My dream even had a protagonist, a woman I could still see when I was awake, standing behind a splintered MTA door, staring very directly ahead. She was an unfulfilled professional who’d lost her unfulfilling profession in the economic collapse, but not before an unfulfilling workplace affair cost her her solid (but unfulfilling) relationship. She’d started shoplifting from Duane Reade and abusing her pharmaceuticals along with other substances. She didn’t believe in the End of the World. Well, nobody did, really. They were all jaded from the incessant hype and horror of it, and also the only type of parties in these days were ironic parties, because authentic celebration had, because of all the irony and the bad economy, become impossible.
The only end of the world my character believed in was the end of her world. Which was why, as the rest of Brooklyn partied “like it was 1999” again, she was planning to wash down a bottle of clonazepam with as many vodka cranberries as it took. (Couture cocktails had gone out with the last millionaires from the Williamsburg waterfront, and retro “trashtails” were back in.)
She was a nostalgist and a kind of vintagey narcissist (exactly the insufferable type who’d aspire to write a novel, come to think of it!), and she didn’t think it proper to leave a ❤able Tumblr suicide post, as had become customary, so she’d shoplifted a memo pad from Duane Reade (the kind moms might have left by landlines, in theory, in history) and now she was holed up in a coffee shop (they still used those really fancy espresso machines, only they brewed Cafe Bustelo in them) ready to compose her last thoughts on the ancient medium of lavender lined paper. Only something crazy happened right then. “AC 360” was streaming on somebody’s laptop, because CNN was, for some reason, really important now, and all of a sudden masked guerillas stormed into the studio with heavy artillery and took Anderson Cooper hostage! Throughout the ordeal, he remained totally silvery foxy and journalistically stoic and unruffled. It was hot. But this was bad. The whole coffee shop gathered around to watch and be like Whaaat together. It was the most human contact our heroine had had (other than with her coke dealer/yoga friend) in months. She felt something funny. It wasn’t love for humanity or affection for Anderson Cooper or even generalized fear. It was a strange stirring she didn’t immediately recognize. She couldn’t quite place it but it reminded her of her childhood, which took place in a town with a hyphen in its name in New Jersey.
It was curiosity.
She wants to find out what happens next. And so, instead of penning her suicide note, what she ends up writing is an analog diary of the End of the World. And — so cute — this is the structure of the novel. It begins in the coffee shop at the moment Anderson Cooper has been led away and something in the air has shifted. She’s annoyed, because she’s real type A and her carefully plotted out suicide has been foiled by fucking history.
After this, the plot gets kind of vague. It turns out, the world is ending. Not because the Mayans said so, but because, and this was all pretty TKTK in my mind, some kind of crazy guerilla political organization evil world conspiracy had planned it that way. Wait, but, maybe the organization had been inspired by the Mayans actually. Maybe there is something pseudo-ancient and ludicrous and fantastically JJ Abramsy in there. (Maybe this would make a better TV show actually? JJ, do you want to have coffee sometime?) In any case, she decides to stick around to see what it’s like. It’s not like you can miss this sort of thing, you know? And it’s not like she has anything left to lose.
For a few months I wrote committedly, first thing every morning, while my inner editor was still too bleary eyed to interfere, developing the characters and, mostly, the setting, which is always the fun part for my waking brain. But then life happened the way it does, and momentum slowed. But I know how the story ends, and I promise it’s not reminiscent of one of those nights on a roof with all your friends where the sky is so bright with ambient street light it’s like it hardly matters if the sun ever comes up again, but then the sun does come up and it obviously matters, and not only that, it’s blinding and uncomfortable and suddenly you have a splitting headache and desperately need to be alone. Well, it’s maybe a little bit like that. I’ll tell you about it some other time, if there is a some other time.
Previously in series: My Books Of Sad Jews