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Barrie Jean Borich’s Apocalypse, Darling is a lyrical memoir that reads like a long-form narrative poem, wrought with long, sweeping sentences and dream-like imagery. The story opens with a zoomed-out picture of a wedding in Indiana, a “decimated plain” where the narrator’s father-in-law is set to marry his high school girlfriend, surrounded by his grown children. The story then backpedals, weaving together different times and cities to tell the narrator’s story.
Every page reveals the depth of Borich’s craft. Her narrator’s voice seems far away, like that first view of the wedding, almost from a bird’s eye. Borich is a skilled lyricist, and her facility with verse is evident. The sense details throughout the book create an unhurried, languid atmosphere. The book is weighted with soft, warm prose that lulls the reader into a trance:
The crack of a pecan and walnut shell. The dusky flesh of persimmon and sharp burst of pomegranate seed. Sweet and salt, fingers to tongue. We toasted, some with scotch, some with juice. To chosen family.
As the story goes on, we quickly learn that the narrator’s father-in-law is not the wonderful groom he seems. He is stoic, quietly disapproving of the narrator and her spouse (his daughter). But his new wife doesn’t seem to notice: “I could tell, the way she was talking, that she believed in some higher hand, that she believed love was magic. Maybe she would change him?” These moments, where Borich zooms closer to the characters, provide us with an insight that grounds the illusory narrative to the realm of the “real.”
The book’s chapters are short, sometimes only a paragraph long. There is little to no dialogue, and no one but the narrator’s spouse is granted a name. Much of the narrator’s thoughts are abstract, more philosophical than rooted in specific moments. Although the verse flows with an imaginative lyricism, there are moments when the chimerical nature of the prose fails to capture deeper meaning and sentiment:
Their corpse our blossom. Our blooming their scorched earth. The seeds of what we feared as teenagers fleeing have become the lilacs of our return. Our old and new cities, real, unreal, our bodies, unreal, real, flow past, pass through one another, and in the crease, the juncture between?
Borich’s greatest strength is when she shows us through specific memories of the pain her narrator feels at the wedding, as well as the subtle discrimination both she and her transmasculine spouse Linnea, face from family members and strangers alike. In the book’s most powerful scene, the narrator describes the bride’s sister’s reaction to meeting Linnea:
The lady’s smile is wide and static. We know this one. We’ve seen this before… She must not understand why this smiling man has introduced himself as a daughter. She has that look of one hypnotized by thunder. Linnea’s arm is outstretched. The lady speaks without parting her teeth. I don’t know, says the lady, what we’re talking about here.
This scene, more than anything else, encapsulates the theme of the book—the fracturing mind and culture of “traditional” America, and the ways in which people perceive others as different, as outsiders. The reader peeks into these small social interactions, wondering if the family will ever feel as cohesive as we want them to.
The narrator deftly sums up this feeling of being an outsider when her father-in-law asks her to dance: “I didn’t know he could see me there, watching from the edge. All these years of not being seen, and now I don’t wish him to see me.”
Apocalypse, Darling is a book for attentive readers, and is best read in one sitting. The magic of Borich’s prose makes it difficult to look away.
By Barrie Jean Borich
Mad Creek Books
Paperback, 9780814254622, 120 pp.