Everything Feels Like the End of the World | Else Fitzgerald #AWWshortstories

We drove home along the forest road, the trees like exposed bones in the headlights, trunks bending in over the gravel track.

From the first story in the collection, ‘River’

Everything Feels Like the End of the World is a speculative fiction short story collection ‘exploring possible futures in an Australia not so different from our present day to one thousands of years into an unrecognisable future.’ The manuscript won the 2019 Richell Prize for Emerging Writers. The judges described it as,

A fireworks show of bursting ideas. The strength of this book is more than its beautiful prose, characterisation and concept: here is an emerging writer who has captured the heart of humanity in crisis with such insight that it feels like a revelation.

I’m not going to discuss every single story given that there are 37 of them in this collection, some being only a couple of pages long. At the beginning it feels like the world being written about is only five minutes in the future. It’s familiar, our new ‘normal’ with extreme weather events following one behind the other, unrelenting. Bushfires, floods, droughts, extreme heat and extreme cold. Rising sea levels, food supply issues, viruses and pandemics.

She’s always liked to walk – not that there’s much choice now with petrol prices.

But as the stories continue the situation steadily declines.

In Else Fitzgerald’s hand our future looks rather bleak indeed. She explores the global and personal responsibility we all share towards our enviroment, our planet. Her characters show us what we as individuals can and cannot do, what might be possible, what might come to pass, what might not. Some stories read as a worse case scenario, but others feel very possible, on the verge of happening right now.

Our futures were erased and there was only now, now, now.

Everything slowly but surely worsens as the stories continue. How we adapt to these changes becomes the hinge for most of her stories.

Our sense of belonging is challenged as not only our local area changes in front of our eyes, but our whole world changes beyond recognition. In The Guardian article from 8 November 2019 where her Richell Prize win is announced, she explains that her family owned a nursery in regional Victoria that went bankrupt due to drought when she was a child, “…we lived our lives by the weather…so I have this fascination with how people deal with the challenges of climate change.”

We were beginning to understand we had been lied to and it made us wild. We were angry and powerless, watching our futures disappear like those coastlines.

The first half of the book uses extreme weather events that feel rather familiar – super floods, extreme bushfires, unknown viruses, erosion, coastal flooding. It’s only a small leap of the imagination then too get to bigger problems like infertility, “how could I bring a child into this?”, riots, water supply issues, droughts, no petrol, closed borders, ‘back when they could travel’, quarantine zones, brownouts, death of the Reef, and new drugs to take away the existential pain.

He’d never realised how dark the nights would be after the streetlights went out.

Just past the halfway mark, a very short story called ‘Feed’ lists the current issues in a curated news-style program – hypercane Martha wrecking havoc in NT & FNQ, funding for the BioSphere Project announced, last coal-fired power station closed, storm surges & dengue fever in Melbourne, food shortages, the ceasefire in US, the increasing climate refugee crisis, glacial harvesting, Oceanus seasteading community, a decline in global fertility, the first cloned elephant, the introduction of SPF100 sunscreen, Tesla’s space hotel opens, and AI Ottolenghi Nutripaks released.

From here on in things only get worse.

Drowned cities which creates new jobs – underwater specialists going into museums and galleries to rescue art work and relics. Genetic manipulation, clones, domed cities, water wars, a dying sun and biocybernetics. One of the final stories is a coded message from the future, sent back to 26 May 2028 in an attempt to change the course of history, the course of the climate change.

This is our hope. According to Fitzgerald we only have a few more years to make some significant changes to slow and reverse current trends.

The whole world is going to shit – what else is there to do but party, to try to feel as good as we can, to surrender?

For my own satisfaction, I looked into the line that appears at the end of Fitgerald’s online bio, “in 2020, Else received a Resilience grant from the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body, to support its completion.” In all the other stuff appearing in the news about the pandemic in 2020, I failed to hear about the Australia Council repurposing nearly $5 million across three new programs – Survive, Adapt, Create – to help artists “to continue to create artistic work and develop creative responses in a time of disruption.

I’m grateful that Fitzgerald, and others like her, were given some financial breathing space to produce creative works such as this during 2020. Everything Feels Like the End of the World was a moving, at times frightening, eye-opening collection of stories to challenge and motivate all of us into further climate action, now!

They say you die twice- the second time when you are forgotten. There will be nobody to look at her old school photographs or read her journals or remember her stories, because nobody is interested in that stuff, in the person you were, except your children. And without them, your history eventually becomes meaningless, life as dull and pointless as a broken light bulb.

Epigraphs:

The whole show has been on fire from the word go. I come down to the water to cool my eyes. But everywhere I look I see fire; that which isn’t flint is tinder, and the whole world sparks and flames.

Annie Dillard | Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974)

Inside the word ’emergency’ is ’emerge’; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters.

Rebecca Solnit | Hope in the Dark (2004)

From the TBR: An ARC that has been on my TBR stack since June 2022.

Title: Everything Feels Like the End of the World
Author: Else Fitzgerald
Cover Design: Sandy Cull
ISBN: 9781761065699
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Published: 2 August 2022
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 253
Dates Read: 21 December 2022 - 29 December 2022
  • This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are this land’s first storytellers.

10 thoughts on “Everything Feels Like the End of the World | Else Fitzgerald #AWWshortstories

  1. Excellent post Brona on a short story collection. It sounds like a really well – and logically- structured collection. And it sounds like It makes sense, ie it builds on the things we already know.

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  2. There’s been some good books coming out of this prize. I’ve only read the inaugural winner Closing Down by Sally Abbott, but the 2021 and 2022 winners look interesting. It’s a shame there’s such a lag between winning with the MS and the actual book, but I try to keep an eye on it!

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    1. I think in this case Covid must have played a part in the time lag, although I see that Fitzgerald was also published by A&U rather than Hachette. The prize stipulates that Hachette has first option at publishing the finished manuscripts, so obviously something happened along the way.

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  3. Pingback: 2022 | The Books
  4. I’m glad you read for Bill’s week and Bill abjectly apologises for taking so long to read you.
    Climate change and all the population and economic changes that come with it, are going to build up and build up and then will suddenly be upon us. I don’t think there is any doubt now that all that ice on Greenland and Antarctica is going to melt and run into the sea. 10m!!!!
    I like that the author builds the change with each story. It sounds clever and effective.

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