Tomorrowland by Joseph Bates (Curbside Splendor/Chicago, September 10th)
The highly inventive stories in this debut collection address a fantastic yet familiar world, where shiny promises of fulfillment fall flat, age disappoints and love is not exactly the answer. Yet these bizarre stories are funny in the best humanist tradition. Imagine if Tolstoy set The Death of Ivan Ilyich in The Twilight Zone and you have an idea of Tomorrowland.
The narrator of the title story, who inspects an eerie Eisenhower era “home of the future”, is old enough to remember the kitsch of this future world, once thought to be so much better than today, and appreciate the irony of the contrast with his actual life--what time steals and what remains. Mirrorverse is a hilarious tale of a guy who wants desperately to make it with his ex-wife and what happens when he’s given a device that turns his TV into a parallel universe.
Yankees Burn Atlanta, Boardwalk Elvis, and Future Me, all explore the Tomorrowland of their protagonists’ youth and their landing places today. The Yankees Burn Atlanta is about a middle aged man in crisis, who fulfills a lifelong dream to become a professional baseball player. And Boardwalk Elvis is the reverse, a middle-aged man who’s been living his fantasy every day, finally experiences reality he’s avoided. Future Me is the most cosmic story, since it’s told by a man who meets his future selves, one a derelict, and joins with them to avoid the waste of his life. Infinity takes on new meaning as the permutations of his selves move back in time.
Bearing A Cross and Guilt City are in a way parables about the madness of extremes in ideals--religious dogma and a man’s crusade to pay for his wrongs. There’s the lackadaisical town which elects an out of control religious zealot and the guy who takes on the physical weight of a guilty conscience, after he turns his backyard into a rent-free city.
Both are aspects of the same craziness and while it’s satirical, like Sinclair’s It Can’t Happen Here, it’s also completely frightening.
Joseph Bates is not just looking to be clever. He’s looking at the space in consciousness, where a person experiences their own inanity and self-pity disappears (if not fear and desperation). His characters have awe for life's mystery, minus the shortcomings of humans and their often less than intelligent design.