The Rending and The Nest
There are few genuinely intriguing takes on ‘The Rapture,’ an American evangelical Protestant concept invented in the 19th century and since wormed its way into religious canon. But Kaethe Schwehn’s The Rending and The Nest, a work of speculative literary fiction, creates a variation on the concept to serve as the story’s spark–90 percent of the world’s population disappears as do animals and objects leaving survivors (if you will) existing in a crippled world. Creatures and things are just gone. Within buildings, rebar instantly disappears causing collapses. The disappearances are random leaving behind a hodge-podge of living and inanimate to be sorted through and that is where Schwehn’s story begins, with the protagonist Mira searching through giant mounds of debris (each named after one of the Three Stooges) all the collected surviving objects wherein she scours for items that may be of use to the surviving subjects. It is a visceral and surreal situation.
At no point are we told why or how ‘The Rending’ happened. It’s never given a theological explanation nor a scientific one. It simply is, a fact of life now that must be dealt with rather than ruminated upon. In a sense, the novel is part of the current trend of dystopian fiction being a post-apocalyptic story, yet it feels less bluntly metaphoric than the vast majority of works in the genre. To be more plain, The Rending and The Nest is less analogy and more allegory requiring readers to be active in creating, critiquing, and speculating about the narrative.
This is necessary because the crux of the story is the revelation that pregnancy in this new grey world births random objects. It is a shocking turn not just for the characters but a disturbing one for readers. It is the fifth year of The Rending in a survivor community called Zion existing between interstates in metropolitan Minnesota. Here Mira’s bestfriend Lana, who has seemingly been placed into being the colony’s sex worker, becomes pregnant. Her’s is the first pregnancy since the The Rending and what she births is a plastic doll. This doll elicits a deep maternal passion in Lana while at the same time her logical mind knows this is foreign, bizarre, and unnatural.
Lana is merely the first. Soon every woman who becomes pregnant births different objects. These objects the women can seem to part with and so Mira melds daycare with museum to create The Nest where the mothers can be near their ‘children’ but still be able to break themselves of the disturbing attachment to these things. Where this the only aspect of the plot, Schwehn would have a shockingly good narrative. However, she goes further introducing a David Koresh-like visitor, Michael, who has created his own colony in the Minnesota Zoo made of people performing for others for food and other benefits. However, Michael is seductive luring Lana away, learning of The Nest, and coveting not just the women but the objects to add to his literal menagerie.
The story turns from a compelling re-population story to a rescue mission, which, I suppose, are more similar than I thought. Mira and Lana’s relationship is fraught with tension but resonates as a profound friendship giving the story a depth separating it from the bulk of similar books in the genre. Schwehn writes a novel about women surviving, becoming survivors with each other. Doing so makes The Rending and The Nest one of the most unique and creative literary novels of the year.
Kaethe Schwehn holds a B.A. from Gustavus Adolphus College and an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her memoir, Tailings, won the Minnesota Book Award for creative nonfiction in 2015 and her debut novel, The Rending and the Nest, will be published by Bloomsbury in February of 2018. She has been the recipient of a Minnesota State Arts Board grant and a Loft Mentor Series award. Her fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in numerous journals. She teaches at Saint Olaf College and lives in Northfield, Minnesota.