Winner of the 2021 Clay Reynolds Novella Prize, selected by Leslie Jill Patterson
At fourteen, two schoolgirls slit their palms with safety scissors and promised to be in each other’s lives forever. One, with a small spark of magical power, can hear her friend’s thoughts even as she rebels, runs away, and ends up in a chrome trailer in a desert. The other hears nothing, but still addresses her thoughts to her lost friend as she gets married, has a baby, and tries to build a stable life. When catastrophe hits the world, the desert woman takes in a gangly girl and tries to use her small power to stave off a doomsday church waiting for rain, a mean-spirited ex-girlfriend, and hopelessness that things will ever improve. The other woman flees with her family to a rich uncle’s cabin in the woods. When a scraggly stranger shows up asking for shelter, the woman is torn between safety and compassion, especially when she finds out there’s a gun in the garage.
I am in the desert and I can still hear your thoughts. The desert is red at dawn. The sand is red and coarse and my heart still loves you, sort of, a lot. There is a lizard’s footprint, there is a spider’s broken web, there is a cactus’ two inch spine. I am not in the desert because of the catastrophe. I am not in isolation because it is recommended. I am in the desert because I love the indigo sky. I tilt my face up to its great expanse, and the sky takes me in.
About the Author
DEIRDRE DANKLIN holds an MFA from Johns Hopkins University. She lives in Baltimore with her husband and orange tabby cat.
“Set in the fallout of our current climate crisis, Deirdre Danklin’s Catastrophe reckons with the consequences of environmental neglect and the limits of empathy, imagining a not-too-distant future in which survival is no meritocracy, but a function of privilege and chance. It is also a contrapuntal tale of female friendship and the endurance of childhood bonds and memories across time, distance, and difference. Danklin’s writing renders magic and disaster real and immediate, then asks her reader to take an even greater speculative leap—toward something like hope in the aftermath.” —Dora Malech, author of Flourish
“In Catastrophe, winner of The Clay Reynolds Novella Prize, author Deirdre Danklin invites the reader into a place of dystopian rot, balanced by the nostalgia of childhood joy, a place where secrets fall like raindrops, and parents escape into the shadows of bedrooms and war novels. The prose is exuberant and well-measured, each sentence an open door to the world of this novella. The first person narrator is well-equipped to tell us this story of running, of journeying away from ecological doom. Danklin creates deep and lasting characters in the vein of any Alice McDermott novel, while the attention to the details of the setting reminds me of the sensual prose of Stewart O’Nan. Danklin has written a can’t miss novella!” —Tommy Dean, editor of Fractured Lit
“Set in the wake of a never-defined catastrophe, Deirdre Danklin’s brilliant, gorgeous novella is about living in the tricky aftermath. Part elegy, part fugue, the narration shuttles between two childhood friends who haven’t seen each other for years, but who still reach towards each other in their minds. Catastrophe is a luminous, incisive, profoundly magical book.” —Kim Magowan, author of How Far I’ve Come