FIREWATER by Edward Cohen


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An amusing and imaginative cautionary tale from the late longtime environmental activist.

The apocalypse has struck again in this bizarre and discombobulated warning about a world where genetic engineering labs are still up and running, though society is reduced to tribes and factions named after old products, such as the Diehards. “UNSEEN CHRONIC POISONING FROM INDUSTRIAL POLLUTION THAT CAUSES PAIN, SUFFERING, AND DEATH,” reads a report at a fish lab in the small Washington State coastal town where the action begins—and there’s plenty of it, and plenty of characters, for a slim novel. The members of the lab, who do things like harvest oysters and covet baby salmon, all remain remarkably distant and emotionally stoic as they continue to rape nature and pay homage to their almost-dwarf neo-Nazi new leader, Bill Urbanchuk. The much-feared Urbanchuk is a central figure (or as central as one can get here), along with Chief Shelldrake, a Native American with US presidential aspirations who’s suddenly powerful again in the wake of society’s collapse. Bent out of shape about some issues involving lichens, Shelldrake decides that his only real recourse is to drive to our nation’s capital and execute a coup. He’ll eventually encounter Urbanchuk, but not before wading through Cohen’s morass of postmodern imagery that foretells a perhaps unavoidable future: spilled truckloads of golf balls and fields of bovines collapsing as their insides spontaneously explode. En route to DC, the Chief gets caught up in niggling questions: Should he really follow through with the coup—when the Pentagon can be such a problem—or should he just open a restaurant? Cohen (1937–99) proves himself to have been an unsung talent as the confusion of his narrative echoes the confusion he fears and anticipates. The manuscript feels a bit unfinished, but unfinished in the best possible way, with echoes, say, of Nathanael West and Thomas Pynchon.

Fun and frightening.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2003
ISBN: 1-888451-43-2
Page count: 200pp
Publisher: Akashic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2003