Benjamin Lasman (b. 1987) is a New York-based writer born in London. He is working on a pair of novels: Spectacular Victims, about several families living aboard a floating micro-nation in the Atlantic Ocean, and Small Town End of the World, the story of a coastal New England village attempting to rebuild after a mysterious apocalypse.
Lasman was awarded the Elmore A. Willets Prize for Fiction (2008, 2009, 2010), the Wallace Prize for Fiction (2008), and the J. Edward Meeker Freshman English Prize for Fiction (2007) by Yale University. Publications include I Am Not a Good Enough Feminist (2011), and Cousin Corinne’s Reminder (2010). He received his B.A. from Yale University.
Photo credit: courtesy of the artist
Excerpt from Small Town End of the World
Winter passed, followed by six months of summer, and then another winter for three years. When the green light came on we had been living underground for a decade, and I had just turned 17.
Life in the shelter was boring, but not difficult. Its dimensions were roughly the same as the living room in the house above, and so for that reason we called it the Den, although when my father became upset he gave it other names: the hole, the bunker, the pit. And my older brother, Alex, who hated the place more than anybody, refused to call it anything. When mom began to talk about a more efficient layout for the lights, or changing the sleeping arrangement, he would drift to the far corner of the room, getting as far away as possible from the rest of us, and watch the conversation with unblinking, dispassionate eyes like a scientist studying the chirps and howls of animals.
The setup of the Den evolved over time to match the way we lived underground. For the first two years we moved things around constantly, with many days spent maneuvering through an obstacle course of failed furniture experiments until, by some stroke of genius, a piece of the puzzle was pushed and a new configuration emerged, marginally more convenient than the last. Originally, the dining table had been set in the middle of the room, but we soon found this created some dead space behind the computer desk, and forced my father to sleep with his legs hooked over the arm of the sofa. After mom tripped on an electrical cord and broke a glass pitcher all over my younger brother Guy’s mattress, it became clear that the generator was in the wrong place. At night, my father’s explosive snoring would keep me up until morning, and it was not until after I wedged the bookshelf between where we, the kids, and our parents slept that the sound became tolerable. Through inconvenience and accidents we found what worked, and by the end of the second year we were spilling fewer things, banging our heads less, staking out zones to eat and nap and hide and converse and get angry at one another and read like you would in any normal-sized residence.
To a visitor, the Den may have looked like a senseless maze of appliances and furniture. “How could someone live here?” he might ask. But of course the answer would be right in front of him. The floor plan explained, in intimate detail, how we spent out our days. Our schedules, our biographies, everything about us was written in the placement of our possessions, and if we wanted to reflect on our time underground, create a history of the family, all we would need to do would be to move everything back to where it used to be, and like that time would be reversed and we would find ourselves living in the past.