Matt Bell. Catacalysm Baby. Fort Collins, CO. 2012. 105 pages. $12.00 ISBN 978-0983026372
To say that Cataclysm Baby, the new collection of Short Stories by Matt Bell published in Mud Luscious Press’s Novel(la) series is “strange,” “good,” or even “artistically and intellectually unique”, would be doing it a disservice . It is so much more than that; so much more than a single category, a single adjective. The book tells the stories of and examines a series of births, with the babies’ names organized A through Z, in individual sections, with titles such as Fawn, Fiona, Fjola and Griffin, Grayson, Guillermo. With each section, the author skillfully reveals disturbing and cleverly constructed events having to do with the children, crossing such other-worldly incidences as a baby being replaced by a “chrysalis, this cocoon, this child-shaped bundle found wrapped in our morning sheets, tangled in the space where our toddler daughter once slept.”
Alongside the brilliantly gruesome plots and development, even the basic prose of this book is perfected down the choice of every word, the inflection and connotation behind every sentence. Bell has especially mastered the art of opening a charismatic and enrapturing story, oftentimes giving depth and emotion to an image and characters within a single sentence. This artistry is visibly prominent from the moment the book is opened, for instance, in the first story, Abelard, Abraham, Absalom:
“This smoldered cigar, last of a box of twenty, bought to celebrate happier times, now smoked to keep away the smell of our unwashed skin, of our slipping flesh, of our baby grown in my wife’s belly, the submerged sign of a prophecy burning, stretching taut her hard bulge: All hair, just like the others, gone wrong again.”
Raw, vicarious, exploratory, creative, unique, and with a voracious sense of human emotion -the passages, throughout my reading of them, have continued to exhaust me with the density of these qualities. Alongside these qualities, the book has also managed to hold onto what many avant-garde authors tend to lose – a sense of connectedness to reality. When reading, the reader never feels alienated, distanced, or disconnected, but instead has the capacity to latch onto every wrenching moment, every challenge and conflict. Every story is more than a journey, it is an odyssey cramped and boxed into a few pages and slammed into your mind via an IV: direct, potent, and most of all – powerful.
Get a hold of this, somehow, someway. You won’t regret it, even if your schedule keeps you from being able to get past the first story, for you will have felt enough by then to last yourself for years.