Dystopian fiction helps humanity deal with the world.

This Impossible Brightness
Jessica Bryant Klagmann
Lake Union

Alma Hughes has always possessed the gift—or curse—of empathy. When her fiance Alex disappears on a hike, she travels to the remotest place she knows, a small town called Violette on a French-Canadian island in the North Atlantic. Here she hopes to have time and solitude to deal with her grief, but fate has other plans. Earth is in trouble. Climate change is hitting the planet sooner and harder than anticipated. Violette is suffering from the impact of violent storms and the steady encroachment of the sea. Alma finds solitude of a kind, but it’s salted with the strange transmissions emanating from the radio relay tower on the mountain in the center of the island. These scraps of messages sounding through ordinary household objects is something the townsfolk are used to, but Alma wonders if the dead—perhaps even Alex—are out there waiting to speak to her.

One day a more violent storm than usual hits the island and the relay tower, causing bright flash and death and destruction throughout the town. People and animals die, yet their presence remains, forgotten by the townsfolk. Only Alma can see and talk to them, which increases her hope that one day she might find Alex. With more people leaving the island for good, Alma tries to reconcile the islanders that remain with the memories of the departed, but as the years pass Alma is increasingly solitary. It takes an unexpected arrival to teach her that there is hope and redemption in the world beyond the shrinking confines of the island.

This Impossible Brightness is a thoughtful story with the lyricism of Dylan Thomas in the way the characters and settings are drawn. Haunting, spiritual, uplifting and deeply human, it highlights the way humanity deals with the world around us.