The Last Vanishing Man & Other Stories by Matthew Cheney
Magic stops. Men vanish. Worlds end. Life goes on.
The stories in The Last Vanishing Man start with the end of the world, as a narrator seeks to imagine how the actions of an American terrorist ripple through his family. American violence and masculinity are topics that weave through these stories, as characters of various genders and sexualities get scarred by the wounds of manhood. But though these stories bounce similar themes off each other, they are not narrow in focus or tone. Hard-edged realism lives alongside ghost stories and weird tales; the lyrical tragedy of "A Suicide Gun" sits beside the wild, filthy, absurdist romp that is "The Ballad of Jimmy and Myra", a murder ballad that might be a lost Weird Al song for a John Waters movie. The collection winds down with an expatriot American living in the melting tundra of Siberia, seeking liberation from the forces that deranged his life, the same forces that shaped and warped the lives of all the other characters in the book.
The Last Vanishing Man is organized in four sections. The first section tells tales of people seeking to make sense of history and their place in it, whether the history of a queer sanctuary in Canada or of the unfulfilled dreams of the Warhol star Candy Darling. The second section gives us characters who are each on a quest to understand someone who is gone, vanished into memory or worlds beyond, their stories closer to myth than history. In the third section, lonely men seek meaning in a world where they have lost their way. Their quests become philosophical, even spiritual, as they wander toward something greater than their own transient desires. The final section breaks the book open with extremes: extremes of feeling, extremes of strangeness, extremes of horror. The fiercely disturbing story "Patrimony" portrays a post-apocalypse where male power renders the procreation of humanity into torture. "On the Government of the Living" is also a post-apocalyptic story, also a story of children and humanity, but more haunting parable than horror, more Samuel Beckett than Clive Barker.
The Last Vanishing Man is a book for readers seeking more than familiar genre conventions, readers seeking stories that challenge, unsettle, surprise, and sing. These are stories aware of the sufferings of the world, stories of characters tormented by unfulfilled desires and unfathomable violence, but also stories of compassion, of community, of humor, and of infinite possibilities beyond the prison of the self.