“The Heart of a Mouse” by KJ BishopNovember 7, 2010 at 1:20 am | Posted in Short Stories | 2 Comments
Tags: KJ Bishop
This week’s short story club story is The Heart of a Mouse by KJ Bishop, published by Subterranean Magazine. It’s about a guy, who’s been turned into a mouse, trying to keep himself and his son, who’s been turned into some sort of gopher-like rodent, alive while journeying across a post-apocalyptic landscape. It seems that this variety of apocalypse involved all of humanity being instantly converted into one of about six or so animal templates, most with only rudimentary intelligence. The landscape has been converted too, so that almost all vestiges of our world have been replaced by the support system to keep this strange pseudo-society moving.
Boiled down like this, this seems like a parody of the post-apocalypse genre. This apocalypse makes no sense whatsoever, but really, do they ever? Meanwhile it literalizes what is usually implicit in the subgenre: the loss of humanity, the emergence of animal instincts, and the destruction of the artifacts of civilization. It’s a situation, and in fact a whole world, that the reader can’t possibly take seriously. Even the characters–the hard-edged father, the naive son, the mother whose death haunts both of them–are right out of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
But the story is completely deadpan. The cartoon world around the characters isn’t even remotely as frightening as McCarthy’s, but the relationship between the narrator and his son is far more dysfunctional. Where McCarthy’s narrator invested his son with his hopes for the future, almost to the point of religion, Bishop’s narrator veers between different shades of despair while his son is the one with the religion, in this case a ludicrous belief system oriented around his dead mother. The story ends on a note of relative optimism, but there doesn’t seem to be much justification for it. The cognitive improvement in the narrator and his son seems to be associated with their proximity to the hut, a last unclaimed bit of our world, and with it gone it seems likely they’ll revert to what they were.
An interesting story, and well written I thought, but while it’s clearly a story in dialogue with the rest of the post-apocalyptic subgenre, I don’t understand what it’s saying. It feels a little like steampunk, having fun indulging in unusual scenery, but ultimately telling an overly familiar story.