In Bacopa’s debut collection, a loner with bipolar disorder faces the end of the world with a teenage girl.
Twenty-something writer Michael Mahrouq, who was born to an Israeli Jewish father and Arab Muslim mother, often struggles to fit in. He’s highly antisocial, due to his schizoid personality disorder. As a result, the bulk of his personal interactions are with the workers at the Orange County, California, ice cream shop he frequents—particularly 16-year-old Halima. The narration asserts that his infatuation with the girl isn’t “sexual, but…more a matter of innocent fondness for her,” it’s only her whom he wants to save when World War III breaks out. As they run from nuclear fallout and travel the ocean, a desert, and the Amazon jungles, Michael encounters inexplicably familiar people from his past, including women who broke his heart during his school years, bullies, and a writing group that insulted his prose. In the background of all this, the world grinds on, with its end apparently connected to President Donald Trump assaulting Vladimir Putin’s cousin, the travels of a truck-driving sexual predator, and the actions of a one-eyed Jewish man named Shlomo. Bacopa’s book offers a set of connected, fast-paced stories, each sharing a consistent stream-of-consciousness style that keeps them from seeming too episodic. However, the dialogue is repetitive and overly expositional, and most characters are limited to one or two defining features. Their ties to Michael, and their unlikely presence so far from Orange County, give the story a sense of fabulism as they randomly appear in and disappear from the story—sometimes quite literally. The book often name-checks modern political and pop-culture elements, such as the aforementioned Trump and Putin, Dr. Phil McGraw, and Ancestry.com. However, it also traffics in vicious stereotypes with such characters as a lecherous gay man and Russian rapists; if they’re meant to be satirical, they lack the knowing wink that’s necessary to avoid the appearance of being exploitative. Mental illness also is a recurring theme, but the manic style of the narration obscures any message it might be trying to get across on the topic.
Problematic stories that suffer from a lack of structure.