The Atlantic

T.C. Boyle’s Fictions of Catastrophe

The ecological stories in The Relive Box are tiny, satirical tragicomedies about individual people.
Source: Stephen B. Morton / AP

“All he could think about was bailing, one bucket after the other, as if the house he’d lived in all his life was a boat out on the open sea.” This is the opening line of “Surtsey,” a new short story by T.C. Boyle that takes place at the end of the world—more specifically, on a remote island off the coast of Alaska, one of those places where the concrete effects of rising sea levels and melting ice caps are felt first. The narrator, A.J., is a teenage boy who struggles to hold on to teenage things. He keeps his basketball trophy and his videogames in the go-bag, knowing he’ll soon have to evacuate, but never knowing for sure if he’ll have the opportunity to return. He and all the rest of the people on the island are prepared: The house is on four-foot stilts; his father has rigged an elaborate system of pulleys to keep everyone’s beds floating a couple of feet off the floor. But the storm is larger, unholier, than they anticipated. It rages relentlessly, surging past the depleted ring of ice that used to protect the island—and surging

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