There’s many ways a relationship can go to hell. People fight, argue and rage. People start off liking each other, but when things go sour, sometimes they go out of their way to wreck their partner’s lives; I know someone who was driving to work and nearly had all four of their wheels fall off; an ex had come over and unscrewed the lug nuts at night. In Torrey Peters’ new novella, Infect Your Friends and Loved Ones, a relationship goes so disastrously bad it destroys civilization.
A writer who’s been featured on Gawker, The Best Travel Writing series and elsewhere, Peters has self-published two novellas this year. And while in the past, self-publishing was the mark of a vanity project, in recent years it’s also become a way for marginalized voices to break into the marketplace; Casey Plett’s book of stories, for example, was published on-demand by the indie press Topside Press. Peters has taken things a step further and released her work independently.
Infect Your Friends… follows two trans women in a mutually destructive relationship. Lexi’s an alcoholic gun-nut with a lot of emotional baggage; the narrator, meanwhile, is status conscious in more ways than one: she “knows from Eames and Baccarat,” casually namedrops designer labels and expensive foods, and doesn’t like being seen with Lexi. Together, they make a wickedly toxic pair that bickers, fights and understands each other.
The story moves around, from an apocalyptic future to the eastern seaboard, but follows this couple as they slowly bring out the worst in each other. However, the crux of the story comes in a house in Seattle. Lexi and her friend Raleen work on a virus that would stop people from naturally producing hormones; those infected have to choose their own gender and take hormones. It’s a funny joke to the house-bound roommates, until they actually synthesize the virus, which Lexi impulsively infects the narrator with. Of course, it spreads, and brings about the end of the world: civil wars, hormone-growing pig farmers and marauding bands of rebels. It’s the Road Warrior, but Max is hauling a tanker truck full of testosterone.
At 75 pages, it’s a quick read, but Infect Your Friends…. drew me in and I read straight through in one sitting. I liked the way Peters’ story is laced with dark humour, which helps offset the stark brutality of the wasteland future. There’s also her way of setting up a line and delivering it in a way which lays bare the brutal naivety behind it: when Raleen gently says “I want to live in a world where everyone can choose their gender,” we know where her good intentions will lead. And when the narrator puts down Lexi, it’s not hard to think she’s trying to cover up her own insecurities:
She starts to cry again. “I took care of you in New Hampshire! I let you sleep in my bed when your girlfriend wouldn’t let you in hers.”
She starts putting on her boots, like she’s going to come out with me. It’s awful. “Jesus, Lexi! I throw you one pity-fuck and now I’m responsible for you forever?!”
Her mouth fall opens and the short little noise that comes out hurts my heart. I push down any regret. It’s her own fault. (Pg 38)
Indeed, by book’s end, I kept thinking about the ways people damage each other and in turn, damage themselves. People say the wrong thing for many reasons, but you can’t unring a bell and once something’s been said, it doesn’t matter why it’s been said so much as that is has been. Or, as they said in grade school, it’s impact and not intent. Although, usually it doesn’t cause civilization to collapse. Usually.
Infect Your Friends and Loved Ones is Peters’ second novella released this year (the other – The Masker – is also good, although it’s much darker). You’ll have to visit her webpage to track this one down, but it’s available in either paper or ebook.