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by Helen Simpson

Pub Date: Feb. 21st, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-307-59558-4
Publisher: Knopf

Short and sharp, the latest stories from the award-winning British author are as pointed as ever, with many of them pointed toward imminent ecological disaster.

After establishing her reputation with domestic vignettes, Simpson (In the Driver’s Seat, 2007, etc.) has more of a global scope with this collection (first published in England in 2010). She tips her hand with the opening title story, which concerns a politically complacent man who has been upgraded to first class, where the pampering temporarily soothes the disturbance he’s felt from the delays of his flight. Yet he finds himself engaged in a debate over global warming (and the role air travel plays in this) and confronting his own mortality, through another, older passenger’s revelation of “the other Mile High Club.” That sense of mortality permeates these stories, as if the “flight” in the title were the passage from birth to death, the “entertainment” the diversions that occupy our lives, distracting us from the fact that “the world is melting and you don’t care.” In “The Tipping Point,” an academic loses his lover to her environmental concerns, to what he dismisses as her “quasi-mystical accusatory ecospeak about the planet.” “Geography Boy” is a classic Eros vs. Thanatos update, as the ardent romanticism of a fellow student can’t shake a young woman’s sense of environmental, apocalyptic doom. “Diary of an Interesting Year” takes the reader past that apocalypse, to the year 2040, when the diarist turns 30 (and thus would have been born when the story was written), and a prophetic scold’s warning—“The earth has enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed”—has presaged a future of rats, cholera and the collapse of the Internet. On the lighter side, there’s “Ahead of the Pack,” in which a self-proclaimed “zeitgeisty sort of person” makes a corporate pitch for investors to capitalize on global warming. Not every story has an environmental undercurrent, but it’s hard to miss the warning in the collection as a whole.