Every Living Species: Lovely Dystopia

Every Living Species, by Erin Stalcup. Gold Wake Press, 2017. Fiction.

In Erin Stalcup’s Every Living Species, we are confronted with much that we don’t want to be confronted with: who we are as human beings, in all of our terribleness. But this is a joyful book. A book about birth alongside of death, about renewal in the face of tremendous environmental calamity.

We’re living in the future — one not too many years down the road, and the oceans have begun to swell, and populations suffer and diminish. So what have humans decided to do in the face of such calamity? Why host a Birds of the World Timed Birding Contest, held in a domed enclosure containing every environment, and specifically every species of bird in the world. A sort of hunger games but with birds. It sounds quirky, but it’s anything but silly. It’s tender and strange and incredibly human.

Though there is a larger cast of characters negotiating their way through this contest, Stalcup focuses on two couples of sorts. First and foremost we have Arrow Sullivan and her dad, Grant. They have a sweet, though fraught relationship that’s revealed throughout — and which is pressured by Arrow’s pregnancy. Although Arrow herself is white, her boyfriend is native and this adds a kind of quiet political urgency to Arrow’s fear of raising a child in a world where it probably won’t survive. On the other side of the dome, we have Ivan Rios and Alastair Askgold, a couple that was paired up by the contest, but who are rapidly falling in love. Ivan is a filmmaker and Alastair a fashion designer, and their different approaches to the roll of art in a world that might be literally drowning makes their evolution into a couple even richer.

Stalcup manages to deal with deeply high-concept themes, and a form that moves from different points of view from chapter to chapter with elegance and urgency, though she is a poet and quiet writer in the best of senses. I won’t tell you what happens, because that would be wrong, but also because in ways, it doesn’t matter.

In this book, it really is the journey that you take with these characters, and the way in which they change your thinking that matters.

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