Thursday, September 10, 2009

" A Coffee Cup / Alien Invasion Story" by Douglas Lain

This story provides a few interesting twists on the "coffee cup" style of short stories popularized by Hemingway and his ilk (eg: a story that is really just a conversation between two characters, the conversation itself initiating some sort of change in their lives). First, instead of just showing a slice from the "normal" lives of two characters, Lain has decided to take that slice out of the lives of two characters that are living in the wake of an alien invasion, or at least an invasion of a sort. The two characters, Alex and Shelly, are sharing drinks outside a pub. In the sky float numerous flying saucers. We learn that the saucers just showed up a little while ago. When they first appeared, they caused widespread panic, but, after they just hung there in the air for a few days, everything went back to normal and people stopped caring about them. In fact, as the story progresses, you learn that some people question whether the saucers really exist.

Essentially the story is a commentary on humanity's ability to cling to normalcy in the face of massive or catastrophic change. However, it is also about Alex and Shelly's inability to accept this new reality and go on with their lives. This is especially the case for Alex, who has been fundamentally changed by the appearance of the saucers.

This brings me to the other interesting aspect of this story. Rather than tell the story of Alex and Shelly in a conventional manner, Lain has decided to interlace the story of how he (or, to be a little more literary, "the character of the author") came to write this story. Alex and Shelly's inability to adapt to their new reality is mirrored with the author's own inner turmoil in the wake of 9/11. In this way, the saucers become a metaphor for the 9/11 attacks, and the fundamental changes wrought by the saucers' existence in Alex and Shelly's world mirror the fundamental shift that the author feels in his own reality in the wake of the destruction of the twin towers in New York. At one point, the author says that Alex and Shelly's story is "a story about the New Normal, about life during wartime." As the two interlacing stories unfold, you begin to realize that Alex and Shelly arn't the only ones having a difficult time adjusting to the New Normal. The author also has his own issues with the new reality that is presented to him in the wake of catastrophic events. All in all, an interesting read, and one I would certainly recommend to others.

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