IT’S THE END of days. The United States is embroiled in a “Forever War.” The people of Sluggards Creek, California, are doing their best to deal not only with the war, but with global warming, crumbling infrastructure, exotic diseases, dying vegetation, and tree-stripping winds that carry off barns and animals. Many of the town’s citizens have gone over to Jesus and have reconciled themselves to what is, in effect, “a slow holocaust.” This is the world William Luvaas creates in his novel of linked stories, Ashes Rain Down.
Through it all, however, the human spirit abides. The human heart continues to lust and love. The human mind continues to insist on finding normalcy and routine. Luvaas’s narratives are full of grief and laughter, joy and pain. These are three-dimensional stories — four if you count the ghosts — with an understated prescience concerning our country’s dicey future.
Ashes rain over the southwest. In the opening story, a recently-deceased old woman manages to continue to spew bitter venom, preying on the minds of her son and daughter, the three of them forever linked by mutual mistrust and hatred. The rich are getting richer, the world is getting warmer, glaciers are melting, and gas is 12 dollars a gallon. A young genius, ignoring what he can’t change, tries to create an artificial brain to use as a substitute when living brains (particularly his father’s) wink out. The Forever War is taking a toll on Fred the Goat Man, a Vietnam veteran who raises goats and sells their milk. War haunts him. So do spooks. They are everywhere, all of them lonely and harmless.
A biblical plague of flies descends on Sluggards Creek, changing the personalities of people they bite. These are not common houseflies but carrion flies, fat-bodied, metallic bluebottles and viridescent greenbottle, typically associated with death. Once bitten, people become bitter and angry and somewhat crazy. Is this a disease? Or as Luvaas asks, “Are we going misanthropic, given the mess we’ve made of things?”
In “Out There,” a woman named Dee holes up in her dilapidated house in the desert. A recluse who paints visions of suffering and death, Dee’s worst fears are realized when a family of human parasites moves into her vacant trailer and starts living off her, eating her food, drinking her water, and blackmailing her into filling the gas tank on their van. Sluggards Creek is attacked by hurricane force winds. After the winds stop, heavy rains come down, threatening to turn the town into an inland lake. In the center of it all, wind or rain, Lawrence and Cora are blissfully making love under the table or wherever the mood finds them. “Nothing like danger to get you horny.”
The voices in these 10, tightly linked stories are reminiscent of Flannery O’Connor’s eccentrics, while the apocalyptic style echoes Cormac McCarthy (if he had a sense of humor). Ultimately, Luvaas infuses these tales with a brilliant absurdity all his own. These “eerie ecstasies” are the musings of a jubilantly dark ironist whose prophetic visions are entirely possible — maybe even inevitable.