I firmly believe that art and artists have the power to save us—the power to see the future and contextualize the now in ways that help us to survive and even to live our best lives. Nikki Kallio is definitely blessed with this insight and reading her new book Finding the Bones shook something loose for me in the very best of ways. This collection of stories and a novella is both wildly creative and also carefully attuned to the dangers of now. It’s also downright spooky at times, in the best of ways.
Examining Our Not-So Distant Future
The first story of the collection, “Geography Lesson,” starts with a father looking for his daughter. It seems like something that could happen in any time, but Kallio includes hints like “at least they hadn’t left their human instincts behind,” to signal there is definitely more happening here. There is and what proceeds is a beautifully written exchange between that father and his daughter that could happen anywhere but gently reveals that they are in fact refugees from planet Earth. Kallio weaves in memories of the father of how he lucked onto this ship and geographic entries from a book the girl, Fiona, is reading that details places on a planet that used to be. If it sounds like sci-fi and cli-fi (climate fiction), it is. It’s also gentle and human and carefully observed. I was hooked on the book after this first story. What I didn’t know was how much the rest of the book was going to upend my expectations.
Playing with Darkness
The second story, “Shadow,” begins, “Patricia saw the bones poking through the snow before the dog did.” The entire story takes place in Patricia’s memories as she decides whether or not to approach those bones. The suspense is delicious as Kallio drops fears into our psyche and also recounts why Patricia, in particular, is afraid of those bones. The story is so masterful that I held my body tense as I read it and I was relieved when it ended. Well, relieved but also wanting to go back and read it again to see what I missed and experience the thrill of reading it all over again.
Each story in this collection is different, though bones are a recurring motif, but I guarantee you will never be bored as you traverse the multiple narratives and genres in these pages.
The Now and Later of a Global Catastrophe
The novella in this collection, The Fledgling begins in the midst of a global catastrophe where something is going wrong with the sun. We get glimpses of the horror that the world is descending into as Gin contemplates the demise of a relationship. It is very much not clear what is happening in this first chapter, but it is clear that things are going to get a lot worse before they get better. Chapter two then cuts to 25 years later when Elena, Gin’s daughter, is navigating the aftermath of “Malsol.” Kallio does a fantastic job of imagining what this after life is like and, to be honest, it was comforting to read about people who have survived apocalypse. The structure is similar in this way to Station Eleven, though Kallio’s story is very much her own as she imagines a world where people cannot go outside in sunlight, where many interactions take place online, and where whole swaths of the population have become “in-dwellers.”
You can imagine how this rang true to my own experience now, when my work day consists primarily of Zoom meetings and my only forays outside are to ferry my kiddo to school and back. Reading The Fledgling at this time was actually perfect for me because I’ve been getting ready to shake off my in-dwelling status and Gin’s life in the after is a good model for what I don’t want mine to be. The details, relationships, and implications are all well thought out and well written. It’s a story I hope I relate to less in years to come, but one that gave me the word “in-dwelling” which was a better place to spring into new life from than some of the other adjectives I’ve used to describe the last few years.