What is it to be American? What is America? America did not have such a hard time envisioning this a generation ago. In the wreckage of legislation and the machinations of big actors, we deal with these questions daily. Start a publishing house with a very limited readership and detail the efforts by billionaires, activists and pharmaceutical firms to create the trans industry, and the ADL will label you a hate group and smear you as white supremacist. Per the left, that is both very un-American but also the essence of being American. Antelope Hill published an anthology of short stories that reflect this moment in America and reveal the plight of the old American in a very post-America landscape.
Shawn Bell’s “Post-“ is a fun collection of stories to illuminate the world we live in and provide fictional representations of the situations we inhabit every day. They vary from the fantastical and magical to the very realistic, and the mix is well assembled. There is not a lot of subtlety about the heroes or villains in stories, nor subtlety in symbolism, but that is not the point. If you grew up in a metro suburb with the post-Hart-Cellar immigration waves, you understand the childhood and experience of the narrator of “Aspirational Negritude”. To come back to the opener, what is it to be American and what is America? These immigrants came for the good life and opportunity one may have associated with America from its old form, but their children were assimilated into whatever broken down museum culture we have today. The Ohio experience is captured perfectly in “Of Mothers and Witches”. It is a nation dotted with small towns formed by forces they barely understood facing new challenges they definitely do not understand.
The magical stories “Advent” and “Rescuing Nadezhda” play with the broader events or ops of our overlords, mixing the real and the fantastic to offer fictional portrayals of how events come about or how does a process get rolling into what is put in front of your screen. “Advent” is a strong opener for the book, and one quite plausible. If one is familiar with old conspiracy theory sites and the multiple versions of Project Blue Beam, “Advent” feels like it could happen. Small little details lay it out as a blueprint for how one may see it unfold. Bell may have not chosen an environmental message to avoid the immediate green goal our elites desire right now. It feels completely real, and with the thread of the specialness of a human soul laced within it, a reader may grow angry with how our overlords do manipulate simple people into pushing their ops.
With my background, “Of Mothers and Witches” hit close to home. During my childhood, something happened in my town to cause brain drain of the next generation. The 2020 political season caused a weird protest where the white women screamed about injustice while the towns blacks hit the lake for fishing and shook their heads at the tearful AWFLs. Some were not even AWFLs, just moms we had known all our life who had a switch flipped, but the switch was always there. The narrator interacting with his cousin is likely uncommon, as the cousin left behind in the town was too familiar with dissident memes and vocabulary, but the split between an urbanite who went away and the family that stayed and suffered the decline is real.
Parts of that story made me chuckle. The last line of “The Last Rhodesian” did as well because it was jarring, unexpected but sadly apt, so this collection is not all serious explorations of living in this empire even if it is for most of the pages. There are moments of joy. That joy is ephemeral as it is in real life. A major theme in the collection is that we are navigating a land where all the situations have been controlled by forces outside our control, yet we, as the few who get the madness of the current situation, beat ourselves up over it. In a Houellebecqian nod, there is definitely the lament about the broken transmission of culture, values etc. from the Boomers to their children. Not all Boomers did it, but enough did that if you are aware and do have kids of your own, you wonder what the hell they were doing. You might even deliberately do the opposite because you know what you were denied. A birthright, a tradition, anything beyond the television and getting paid. In “The Blue Mountain Trust”, the narrator beats himself up over following a life logic or curse to his life, but neither he nor his newly departed friend could see the forces arrayed against him defying this curse. It was outside of his control, just as the disintegration of the intergenerational transmission process was outside your control. The forces in “Of Mothers and Witches” were outside Danny’s control, but he knows that. He is just making his way in a dying town.
That’s really all people can do now. America as the unified entity and body that once was is no longer. Americans, the actual legacy of that now gone political body, still exists as a nation. These Americans are well represented in the stories in “Post-” for good and for bad. Changes thrust on them are all encompassing and have many wandering in a state of shell shock. They still have to live even with a system dead set against them. It is the population trying to find a way through the bazaar. Like any customer, it has to learn who is cheating them, figure out the value of the goods offered, and make a choice.