Joan Didion vs. Ben Winters. A Deal Me In Short Story Challenge

End is NowYou might think this one would be a bit of a stretch.

This time the two cards I dealt brought me Ben Winter’s linked stories “BRING HER TO ME” and “BRING THEM DOWN” from The Apocalypse Trilogy and Joan Didion’s essay “Comrade Laski, C.P.U.S.A. (M.-L.)’ from Slouching Towards Bethlehem.

Winter’s story is about a group of religious fanatics who believe God has told them to end their lives on a certain day.  Everyone is this community, which exists in an off-world colony in a state of decline, believes because they have actually heard God speak to them, except for one girl who for some reason is the only person God does not speak to.

I thought this was a interesting idea. Suicidal groups and non-suicidal groups of religious fanatics who think one particular day will be the day God calls everyone home pop up on a regular basis in America.  So far they have all been disappointed.  But what if one of them really was right?  What would that be like?

I don’t have the third book int he trilogy yet so I can’t say how it all works out, but Mr. Winter’s stories are fun so far.  He wrote The Last Policeman series which I enjoyed so I knew what to expect.  Entertainment.   I got it.

Joan Didion also entertains, but she manages to do more in her essays.  Comrade Laski is a very short piece, just a few pages, about Michael Laski, a dedicated communist living in late  1960’s Los Angeles.

As Ms. Didion paints him, Laski lives in a self-created world, one so paranoid, so exact, that it divides a small group of people, American Communists, into at least three sub-groups, each with a different world view and a different plan about how to achieve it.  That there is no way they could ever achieve their goal, bringing about  a communist revolution in America, never enters the discussion.

Instead, they focus on creating a revolution within themselves, within their own very small ranks.  They root out incorrect thoughts, continually re-educating themselves so that everyone has the correct beliefs.  I think this makes them very like a religious sect.

The world of Michael Laski had constructed for himself was one of labyrinthine intricacy and immaculate clarity, a world made meaningful not only by high purpose but by external and internal threats, intrigues and apparatus, an immutably ordered world in which things mattered.

Sounds a lot like Jonestown to me.

I’m enjoying both books so far.  The Apocalypse Triptych has been entertaining reading  and I plan on buying the third book in the series soon.  But Slouching Towards Bethlehem is a masterpiece.  It should be taught in every high school in American, especially now that we’re supposed to be using non-fiction more, all hail the Common Core.  I think Didion should have a firm place in the cannon.  She’s going to make my list of favorite reads of 2015.  Everyone should read her.


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