Blue Bicycle Books, Charleston, SC

REVIEW: City of Beasts by Corrie Wang, Reviewed by Jonathan Sanchez

Just about every aspect of the eighties has come back as retro. (The 2020 Olympics will even have break dancing, which sounds like an idea from one of the zanier Electric Boogaloo characters.) But one major part of life in the Reagan era that hasn’t been rehashed much is the overhanging threat of nuclear war. 

It’s certainly the first thing that comes to mind when my fellow parents stress about their children suffering the trauma of active shooter drills. We had fallout shelters and War Games and The Day After, and “99 Red Balloons.” 

Corrie Wang’s City of Beasts is a terrific, old-school post-nuclear dystopia, the kind we used to see back in the eighties. There’s also catastrophic flooding in a nod to a more current crisis. Global warming sea-level rise has sent refugees to Buffalo NY, and then in the chaos, someone hacked the missile codes, so her story begins after a good-old-fashioned World War III. (Remember that? Back in the Cold War, that extra Roman numeral I was all it took to signify nuclear annihilation and all its radioactive aftermath.)

A few years later and the world — or Buffalo at least —  has divided into two camps, women on one side of the Niagara River and men on the other. When the teenage narrator, Glori, crosses over and encounters the men’s world for the first time, it offers up a whole host of fun possibilities and rifts on male/female relations. The women live in something of a nerdy sorority, kung fu convent, taking turns at chores and training as lethal ninjas (nun-jas?). The men live like slobs — Lord of the Flies with porn and motorcycles. 

But what’s fun about this book is that Corrie isn’t heavy-handed with this dichotomy. The women’s side is a bit boring in its rigorous asceticism, and the men have their charms. To be sure, it is a dystopian world,  twice-ruined, and both times are the fault of men. But Wang clearly has more to say than “girls rule / boys drool.” It’s clear that, for all their faults, Wang actually likes the men. She herself has spent a lot of time in a male-dominated arena — her other gig is as a restauranteur — and Food and Beverage is probably one of the best ways to see men at both their worst and their best, often in one night. 

Corrie may be a Buffalo girl who spent her formative years in Brooklyn, but Charleston is her home now, and she gives her new hometown a shout-out. Glori comes across a group of refugees from the Lowcountry in an abandoned subway. If you need another warning about climate change, how about seeing residents of your town living in subterranean squalor below Buffalo, because they can’t handle the New York / nuclear winter.

I highly recommend City of Beasts. Wang clearly loves her characters, be they ‘beasts’ or ‘fees,” and she’s written a snappy, fresh take on male-female dynamics.

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