Afterland: Chapters 20-23

[Content Note: Transphobia, Toxic Masculinity, Homophobic Slurs]

Okay, so what I'm going to try to do today is summarize a chapter in the fewest tweets possible, unless/until more transphobia crops up to talk about. This means I'm going to necessarily have to skim over all the other problematic stuff, but this book is starting to wear me down with its badness.

AFTERLAND. Chapter 20.

"20. Cole: Find A Crack and Fall Through It"

I thought Patty's reference to "husband and boyfriend" indicated polyamory, but no, it was an affair. Sigh. Patty has nothing more valuable to do with her life than help Cole, so she gently pressures her to tell her the truth about where she's going. Cole declines, and Patty good-naturedly gives her cash and a car. That's the entire short chapter.

The only thing of note here is that Patty says they've helped people get away from "[s]talkers, abusive exes, toxic families" since the plague and I wonder what that would even look like in a world where all the cis men have died. Like, women can absolutely be abusers, but by definition a LOT of the abusers in the world are dead (because half the population just died) and this Utah "commune" of roommates didn't see a drop in business? Whatever.

By the way, Michelle never showed up again in this book. That fourth roommate literally only existed to talk about masturbation and semen to Miles so he'd get uncomfortable and they'd all take him to see modern art and his social media leaks could then happen. Like Richie Cunningham's older brother Chuck, she just disappeared back upstairs and out of our lives forever.

AFTERLAND. Chapter 21.

"21. Billie: Search History"

Billie and her crew find the "the future is fucked" tractor thanks to Miles' social media. One of the thugs: “As long as governments are restricting reproductive rights, that’s true.” Just a little reminder that the only people in this book who ever (and repeatedly) reference reproductive rights are the villains.

Anyway, Patty and Angel and the dogs rebuff Billie because they all instinctively realize she's Evil. Violence happens and it's possible that Patty is killed but it's unclear. Bhavana is brutalized into revealing that Cole was going to find her family, so Billie assumes that means the sister-in-law in Chicago.

The chapter ends and we don't know whether the commune inhabitants were killed because Billie had another "time jump". Convenient. There's still no explanation for why this multiple-felony plan is better than just robbing a sperm bank.

AFTERLAND. Chapter 22.

"22. Cole: Raccoons"

The last time we had a Miles chapter was chapter 15, in case you were wondering. Good god, I assumed when they gave Cole cash and car, it was a few dollars and a beat-up clunker. They gave her two hundred dollars and a "gold Mercedes" because Cole travels in style.

We're told, not shown, that the world without men is bleak and haunted. "Every town they’ve passed through is a ghost town of a kind. But the most haunted places are the ones that are still inhabited. Women’s country." This is such a weird book in that the premise seems to be that: a world without men is nothing, empty, and dead, AND women are no different from men, just as capable of violence and cruelty. But if women are no different, then why the unique emptiness?

Cole and Miles have found an empty cabin to squat in and are totally alone, but Cole keeps misgendering and deadnaming Miles. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. This gendermess: "“Oof,” she complains, as Mila’s bony shoulder thunks into the side of her boob. But she loves the weight of her, the warm boy smell (it’s true) of his skin (her skin) and the oil in her hair." I am so goddamn sick and tired of this cis nonsense where even as Cole misgenders Miles (for no reason!!) she insists that he's a boy deep down to his bones because he smells like one and "(it's TRUE!)" like she's the only one brave enough to say it.

Miles reveals that he posted stuff to his snapchat and Cole tells him he mustn't ever do that again. A raccoon startles them and the author tries to make apocalypse happen but it's not going to happen.

Normalcy. Fun-times almost-apocalypse mother-child road trip. It’s good, hanging out, silly conversation. Raccoons. If you forget that dinner is going to be tomato puree and creamed corn and rice pudding, all out of cans scavenged from the potato-scented cellar beneath the cabin. If you forget they’re driving a borrowed Mercedes that gulps gas, which gets more expensive every time she finds a station that’s open and functioning. Goddamn country roads and burning oil fields. If you forget that she’s a sister-killer. Cain and Abel. You really want to go there, boo?

They're not safe in the middle of nowhere, but it's a thing because zombie apocalypses look like this and the author doesn't understand why. They'd be so much safer in a huge city, safety in obscurity, doing little odd jobs for cash and buying bus tickets. Zombie apocalypses are set in cabins because the cities are full of mindless cannibals. This canned-food-and-rare-gasoline plan of Cole's makes no sense and is only here for the aesthetic.

Then it's just paragraph after paragraph of relentless and pointless misgendering: "[Cole] relishes the respite of the moment, the chance to scan her child’s sleeping face, the freckles like cinnamon, the dark curls. Beautiful boy. No, beautiful girl. Girl." I just do not understand how the folks who praised this novel didn't notice--or care?--just how much joy the narrative takes in misgendering a child who is given 1/5 the amount of POV time (4 chapters of 22 so far).

That's what this entire chapter is about! NOTHING else happens! It's just constant misgendering of Miles while insisting that he's still a boy deep down because he has a biological 'boy smell' that makes him a boy no matter how much society might pretend otherwise. You cannot salvage this with a weaksauce tweet about trans women being women and trans men being men. The entire point of the novel is this TERFy gendermess about boy smells and gender-sniffing dogs. That's all we get. That, and the racism.

Kissmate is awake and says this Snapchat stuff with Miles makes no sense. He's treating it like Twitter, posting all his media there for later access/use since he had to give his phone back, but Kissmate says Snapchat media self-destructs after a brief time. Moreover, Miles assures Cole that his Snapchat is set to private, but that's the Snapchat default; you can't just log on and see everything in the world the way Twitter is/does. I don't know why he isn't just using Twitter; he *thinks* in Twitter hashtags.

Furthermore, a clarification on the gender stuff for people just joining us: Miles is (apparently) a cis boy, but the misgendering and mis/dead/whatever-naming of him by the narrative is no less problematic just because he's cis. A narrative which insists that a character is the gender they are *because* of their biology (bone structure, smells, etc.) isn't less transphobic if the character happens to be cis. It's still equating gender to an immutable biological force.

AFTERLAND. Chapter 23.

"23. Miles: #BunkerLife"

Miles and Cole have been on the road forever, but this flashback to the billionaire wine farm is set "a week ago", which feels like another problem of scale on the author's part.

The quarantine has a request library in which they'll get any book or video game or game console you'd like as long as it's not The Internet (because terrorists will find them) and it's hard not to feel like Miles is ungrateful to complain so much about this life. I know I've beat this dead horse a lot, and yes, freedom is important, but this is the most luxurious quarantine ever--it's Luxury Space Socialism Quarantine--and the world outside will murder him for free, so like. Have a glass of perspective.

"There are a lot of people angry that Billie is here, swanning in like she’s on the VIP guest list, even though the Male Survivors Act says any direct surviving blood relative will be allowed to join their family in a haven facility." I'm impressed that the dystopia government has outlined who is allowed to live in their secret facilities where they illegally disappear people. I'm confused why the others are upset that Billie is here. Woe, we are persecuted for being White and Special, I guess.

I'm confused, too, because Chapter 1 Cole acted like this escape plan had been a long time in planning, but now it seems like Billie showed up with an escape plan that Cole then immediately enacted with almost no delay. We get Star Wars and Harry Potter references mashed together: “The Force is strong in Gryffindors.”

[Homophobic Slurs] Miles and Ella play in corn fields and spy on the ex-convict survivor, Irwin, who violently accosts them, yells at them, and calls Miles a "pussy" and a "stupid little faggot". There's no plot point to any of this and I'm so tired. "“I pity your parents. For having such a stupid little faggot.” Each word a punch. Like Miles cares, like he gives a shit what Irwin thinks about him. “Little pussy boy. Your old man probably died of shame before HCV ever got him.”"

The chapter ends with Ella wanting to tell an adult and Miles doesn't. This can't possibly go anywhere, plot-wise, since Miles will be in Salt Lake City in a week; Billie doesn't have much room in the timeline to try to kidnap him and for Cole to intervene. So given that this thing with Irwin cannot go anywhere, why is it here?? This doesn't advance the plot or reveal character! It just puts a bunch of toxic masculinity and homophobia on the page, directed at Miles, after a lot of misgendering of him.

Narratively, Chapter 22 existed to call Miles a "girl" over and over by his mother, and Chapter 23 exists to call Miles a 'girl' over and over by a grown man. What is the point here? I'm genuinely trying to draw some contrast--one misgendering instance is done by a loving figure and the other is done by an adversary?--but they're both shitty and harmful and toxic, and none of it was *necessary*. I'm done for the day.


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