This review was contributed by Nathan McNamara.
Figures for an Apocalypse
Publishing Genius Press, August 2013
Edward Mullany, author of Figures for an Apocalypse, describes himself as a writer who creates short things that sometimes have “story” in them and sometimes don’t. His prose pieces—running from a few words to a few pages long—rarely accumulate traditional narrative sense or follow any sort of plot arc; rather, they succeed in the places where they stop unexpectedly, or focus on the wrong things in pivotal moments.
In a piece titled “The Wrong Child”, for example, we closely follow a young girl through a typical school day, with no actual explanation from Mullany of what’s “wrong.” Instead, the reader is left to wonder if she’ll be falsely accused of playground misbehavior, if the mother collecting her at the end of the day is the “right” mother, or even if this is a folk tale with a changeling standing in for the child. It doesn’t feel like Mullany intentionally misdirects us, exactly; rather, it feels like we’re being led by a guide with a delightfully schizophrenic sense of where the story might actually be.
The other prose pieces in Figures for an Apocalypse achieve a large amount of their energy through the technique of omission. In a piece titled “The Man Who Collected Teeth,” we are told of a man’s apartment in a part of town “that always seemed to be cold and wet,” but we learn nothing further about his habit of collecting teeth—why he collects them, whether he collects animal or human teeth, or whether the teeth are gathered from living things or dead bodies.
While managing to explore dark pathos, Mullany is also funny and accessible. With charm, Mullany escorts his readers to a place where we can appreciate the overlooked details on the periphery of our nightmares, and the mad angst of sensing both the infinite and our own mortality.
Nathan Scott McNamara is an MFA Fiction student at Johns Hopkins University. He has been published in Word Riot, and he is the recipient of the 2010 Vassar College Ann E. Imbrie Award for Excellence in Fiction Writing.