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491 words
SHJ Issue 7
Spring 2013

Apocalypse Now

[Ashes Rain Down
by William Luvaas]

A Review by Duff Brenna

Spuyten Duyvil
(February 2013)

Cover of Ashes Rain Down, by William Luvaas

See also Amazon

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 with not only the war, but also 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.”

Through it all, however, the human spirit continues to abide. 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, pain. These are three-dimensional stories (sometimes four if you believe in ghosts) with an understated prescience concerning our country’s dicey future.

Ashes rain over the southwest while an old dead woman still manages to spew bitter venom kept alive in the minds of her son and daughter, the three of them forever linked by mutual mistrust and hatred. Death stinking like “holy hell.” The rich are getting richer; glaciers are melting. A young genius, ignoring what he can’t change, applies his mind to creating 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 a Vietnam veteran named Fred the Goat Man. He raises goats and sells their milk. War haunts him. So do spooks. They’re everywhere, all of them lonely and harmless.

A biblical plague of flies descends on Sluggards Creek. These are not common house flies but carrion flies, fat-bodied, metallic bluebottles and viridescent greenbottles, typically associated with death. When they bite people, their personalities change. They become bitter and angry and somewhat crazy. Is the madness associated with biting flies a disease? Or: “Are we going misanthropic, given the mess we’ve made of things?”

A woman named Dee is holed up in her dilapidated old house in the desert. She’s a recluse who paints visions of suffering and death. As far as she is concerned, the worse thing that can happen is to have her space invaded. This of course occurs when a family of human parasites occupies her territory. 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 style and mixture of voices used throughout these ten tightly linked offerings suggest Flannery O’Connor’s eccentrics channeling the apocalyptic visions of Cormac McCarthy (if McCarthy had a sense of humor) laced with brilliant absurdities that might also be labeled eerie ecstasies, the musings of a jubilantly dark ironist whose mind is filled with prophetic visions about a future entirely possible—maybe even inevitable.

—Previously published in Los Angeles Review of Books (31 January 2013)

—Additional info about Ashes Rain Down at


SHJ Issue 7
Spring 2013

Duff Brenna

is the author of six novels, and recipient of an AWP Award for Best Novel (The Book of Mamie), a National Endowment for the Arts Award, a South Florida Sun-Sentinel Award for Favorite Book of the year (The Altar of the Body), a Milwaukee Magazine Best Short Story of the Year Award, a Pushcart Honorable Mention—and, most recently, a 2013 Indie Book Award (Minnesota Memoirs was chosen as Winner in the Short Story category).

Brenna’s latest books include a memoir, Murdering the Mom (Wordcraft of Oregon, 2012), and a collection of short stories, Minnesota Memoirs (Serving House Books, 2012).

His novel, The Holy Book of the Beard, which he says is one of his favorites, was re-released in 2010 (New American Press). A New York Times review of this book says, “It is loaded with all the ingredients of an underground is nearly impossible to put down.”

Brenna’s stories, poems, and essays have appeared in Cream City Review, SQ, Agni, The Nebraska Review, The Literary Review, The Madison Review, New Letters, and numerous other literary venues. His work has been translated into six languages.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury