I LOVE YOUR… uh… BOOK!: Jonathan Bluebird Montgomery on Nancy Stohlman’s “After the Rapture”

Yeah, I was writing this at a party. And yeah I was liberally sipping a tall bourbon & Dr. Pepper while I was. And yeah Nancy was right there next to me pretty much the whole time. 

And yeah okay yeah yeah it’s taken me like two months to actually finish writing this. Cuz ya know things.

Is this what the publishing team at Mason Jar Press envisioned when they sent me an advanced copy of Nancy’s new flash novella After the Rapture months ago? I can’t say I’ve ever really understood the minds of professional publishers, but if they are expecting me to convince anyone to buy a copy of this book cuz of my record of punctual and objective tastemaking then they will probably be disappointed. 

This is the Boulder Poetry Scene after all. All we do is talk about how great our friends’ writing is, and that’s the way we like it. And Nancy is my good friend. And her writing is real great. 

Anyway, it was late February and we were at Rob Geisen’s “Under the Moose” reading, the erratically scheduled, invite-only, deeep underground lit happening we’ve been doing for like 1.3 decades. This time was at Rob’s daughter’s place in Denver where he was dog/house sitting, and Kona Morris was there visiting from LA, and Krystal Summers was there, and Leah Rogin-Roper and her husband Roper were there too.

And I had it in mind to, and, in fact, declared that I would, write this review right there live in front of everyone. Of course, I knew that it was a long shot to pull off, and I mostly did not pull it off, but I did manage to get down a bunch of drunken notes to light my way later. 

THE HUG NOTE: Everyone hugs each other when they get there. I rant about about how the biggest thing standing in the way of my literary success is the fact that I’m a shitty hugger (unless it’s my dog). Leah: “The way to become a good hugger is to hug a good hugger.” Nancy agrees. Me: “I don’t want to be a good hugger tho. I want to be a shitty hugger and be accepted anyway for it, just like I once assumed all my literary heroes were.” 

That’s right, Mason Jar, if I’m in a certain mood and surrounded by safe people, I self-indulgently complain at parties! And even more self-indulgently include it later in my book reviews! 

So okay yeah the review… After the Rapture is a book about The-End-of-the-World. When I first read an earlier unpublished draft in May 2020 Nancy was concerned that it was accidentally a little too on the nose with the End-of-the-World we were currently experiencing. I didn’t see it as a “Pandemic book” then or now tho. It was almost all written before that ever happened anyway, but the thing about Nancy’s writing is that it’s so keenly observant about human behavior that it can correctly predict anything that will ever happen to us. And The Pandemic just happened to be one End-of-the-World in an era in which there’s a new End-of-the-World happening like every day. It doesn’t matter if it’s COVID-19, contaminated lettuce scares, or whatever just happened (hey, remember that Silicon Valley banking thing from a few weeks ago? yeah that was going on when I first started writing this), thanks to our advanced media technologies we are now conditioned to live in a constant state of emergency.

THE PASTA SALAD NOTE: mention how good the leftover pasta salad Krystal Summers brought over was.

THE AWP NOTE: Nancy is going to AWP, and doing a reading with her press and probably will be appearing at A Booth. I’ve been telling myself I don’t give a shit about going to AWP, cuz I am a literary outsider, you hear me, a literary outsider, and you don’t need to be a part of anything inside when you’re a literary outsider rebel outsider rebel. Me: “Nancy, I think I may be lying to myself. Maybe I do want to go to AWP.” – Nancy: “You can just go.” Me: “But what if no one ever invites me.” Nancy: “You don’t need to be invited. Just go. Next year is Kansas City. I’ll be there.” Me: “Okay, I’ll go to Kansas City then.” 

That’s one of the good things about Nancy. She can talk you down from your own personal literary End-of-the-Worlds. Just like her brand of deadpan satire talks her audience down in Rapture. She spoofs our perpetual hysteria by consistently tying it together with our equally helpless urge to gorge on pop culture – Walmart, Tom Selleck, KFC, Barbie Dolls, etc… In the world of this book, angels and antichrists are treated as mundane while karaoke is treated as sacred. 

THE KANSAS CITY/KARAOKE NOTE: Nancy: “We’re thinking about doing karaoke tomorrow at Dubs.” I turn to the next page of After the Rapture titled “Karaoke Gangs Force (Kansas) City to Institute Curfew.” Me: “Oh my god, we mentioned both Kansas City and karaoke in conversation in the last five minutes and then I randomly opened to this chapter!… The Gods are on the side of this review!” Nancy nods. 

Nancy describes our literary movement as “Pop Lit,” akin to Warhol’s Pop Art, because we can’t help pop culture being so central to our worldview. We grew up in that era of maximum television but not internet quite yet, and that affects how we look at everything. 

THE BLONDIE NOTE: When Nancy had her lounge style 80’s cover band Kinky Mink they usta do Blondie’s “Rapture.” Nancy knows all the words to the rap part. 

THE ROB/JEFF BECK NOTE: Rob’s big End-of-the-World is obviously Helen, but he has mini End-of-the-Worlds whenever a legendary guitarist dies. For the last few weeks he can’t stop saying the name “Jeff Beck.” Rob: “Jeff Beck, Jeff Beck, let’s all go down to the basement couch now, Jeff Beck, Jeff Beck.” Rob plays Jeff Beck licks on his guitar in the basement.

LEAH/MARYLIN MONROE NOTE: Leah has a book coming out that’s just about Marylyn Monroe.

THE SLING TV NOTE: I recently got Sling TV after having no TV of any kind for like 10 years. It’s a streaming thing, but it’s the cable channels, so they show commercials. And I’m surprised by how much I’ve missed commercials. They present a soothing idealized version of life – perfectly Swiffered floors. Rather than the doomed version of life the internet offers – perfectly Swatistka’d floors.

The narrator/main character in After the Rapture seems to have no agency. Like possibly the reader of this review, she gets tossed from one hyperventilation/indulgence to the next and can only just watch. But is she even all that upset about it? 

THE LEAH ‘REAL SHIT’ NOTE: Leah: “The Rapture is what you focus on when you can’t deal with the real shit in your life.” 

A lot of the book was inspired by a car crash Nancy was involved in a few years ago. It was one of those genuine personal end-of-the-worlds in which she was nearly raptured to wherever you go when you’re raptured, and ended up with serious injuries which took awhile to recover from. The narrator in “After the Rapture” similarly gets in a car accident at the moment of the book’s Rapture, and, in classic Nancy humor, she has her injured arm replaced with a plastic Barbie arm. This leads down a whole Barbie rabbit hole with Ken and the Dream House and everything, as she and the rest of the unraptured wait in limbo for the final end-of-the-world. 

THE MOOSE NOTE: We all read something for “Under the Moose.” Too buzzed to write down or remember what. 

THE CONNECTIVE TISSUE NOTE: Nancy (in Flash Fiction instruction mode): “In a flash novel each little chapter can stand on its own and pack a punch. You don’t need to include all this connective tissue like a regular novel. The audience can fill in the gaps.” 

THE READ US THE REVIEW NOTE: Kona (toward the end of the night): “Jonny, read us the review.” – Me: “I only have notes.” – Kona: “Then read the notes” – Me: “well I guess I… (suddenly the rest of this review vanishes with all the other the rest of the book reviews in the world, we can only assume it is the rest of the book review Judgment Day and the rest of this review has gone to a better place…)

So, alright Mason Jar, I guess this is what I have… uh, uh, uh… uh… and readers uh if you’re weird and fractured and overly pop cultured and generally freaked out by the End-of-the-World too maybe go buy and read Nancy’s new book. You can get it here!

Jonathan Bluebird Montgomery is the creator and Editor-in-Chief of Boulder Poetry Scene. The author of Pizzas and MermaidThe Reality Traveler, and the recently released Nine Books (at Once!), he’s been on the Boulder poetry scene since he first went to get his MFA at Naropa’s Jack Kerouac School in 2003. You can find more of his work at jonathanbluebirdmontgomery.com