By Anne Marie Wirth Cauchon
(Two Dollar Radio)
The end of the world is nigh in the Missoula Mountains, whose forests are burning from dry fires headed nearer to civilization with every minute. Smoke billows past a “crystal clear river and mountains covered in dark pines.” Ash falls like snow. As the raging fires approach town, citizens are urged to evacuate, while partygoers raise hell in a gutted McMansion. The sordid details of what happens inside the late-teens/early-20s’ parties are supplanted by the observations of the oscillating narrators in Anne Marie Wirth Cauchon’s debut novel. Ever-brooding Ruth, who romanticizes Kafka, Plath and suicide, obsesses over her best friend, Bridget, a gorgeous outcast whose looks are often touched with reverence and remorse; James, a well-heeled drifter, desperately searches for his biological father, leading to a violent feud with local hobos. When James sets his sights on Ruth at a party—a tense mix of Fight Club and Eyes Wide Shut—romantic drama ensues.
But these parties come to an abrupt halt when a girl dies of mysterious causes beside an abandoned dead-eyed baby. What makes fiction more ominous than the tortured demise of children? Who can shake the image in The Road when the Boy notices “a charred human infant headless and gutted and blackening on the spit,” and who can forget the neglected Trainspotting baby? These kids will drive you to lock yourself in a closet and come out next year. Nothing’s baby is a martyr for the dreaded apocalypse, and Ruth’s neuroses are its nucleus. The novel offers glimpses into the wasteland of early adulthood, perpetuating the anxieties of narrators more conscious of cliques, mollies and selfies than the “wildfire smoke like incense spreading skyward.” Fire against angst is a vivid juxtaposition—and atmospheric, in the most literal sense. If a warehouse of Thomas Kinkade paintings caught on fire, there would be Nothing.