At the bitter end of the 1960s, upon his return home from combat in the Vietnam War, twenty-two-year old Eugene Allen writes a novel called Hystopia. It is set in a strangely destabilized historical moment, where President Kennedy is entering his third term in office, and a new federal agency maintains the mental health of returning soldiers by wiping their memories through drugs and therapy, while those beyond help roam at will, re-enacting the atrocities they have witnessed. Outlandish and tender, funny and violent, timely and historical, Hystopia is a wild, gonzo experience about the nature of trauma, homecoming, and the redemptive power of storytelling.
In his masterful story 'A River in Egypt', David Means paints a portrait of a moment. Cavanaugh and his young son are suspended; trapped in what a nurse calls 'the sweat chamber', where the boy will be tested for cystic fibrosis. Cavanaugh has brought distractions - spasmodic action figures, malformed toy trucks - but they do little to alter the frustration of the sick child screaming, or to alleviate the anxiety of the time spent waiting for 'some exactitude in the form of a diagnosis'.