Bruce Holsinger’s hurricane novel, “The Displacements”



Miami is booming. According a recent story in the Wall Street Journal, apartment prices are rising faster in and around Magic City than anywhere else in the United States.

“In some desirable neighborhoods, the Journal reports, “landlords double the rent after a lease expires because they know that Northeast and West Coast registries are willing to pay significantly more.”

Before loading your moving truck, read “Displacements,by Bruce Holsinger. Yes it is just a novel, but Holsinger built a doomsday plot on safer ground than the foundations of many Miami homes. After all, given the risks of hurricanes and floods induced by climate change, Resources for the futurea nonpartisan economic think tank, called Miami “the most vulnerable major coastal city in the world.”

Of course, we are tragically adept at dismissing scientific projections about storm surges and deaths per 100,000, especially if those surges cause the deaths of people we never meet. But Holsinger brings the cost of climate change home — to McMansions in Coral Gables, Florida. People in this affluent community imagine that tornadoes only hit trailers and if the weather turns bad for a spell, they can always scamper off to their cabins in Michigan.

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In the opening pages of “The Displacements,” set a few years later, a flurry begins to brew off the coast of The Gambia in West Africa. It converges with another storm and then a third. Influenced by random fluctuations in water temperature and convective flow, these storms “merge and collide” and then begin to spin, forming a tropical depression that eventually gathers enough strength to earn a name.

Discover Luna, the first category 6 hurricane in the world, “the one against which climatologists have been warning us for twenty years”. Holsinger describes the approaching hurricane as if the storm were a dragon made of water. Luna flies across the Atlantic, she stops for food, she gives Miami Beach “a laid-back pat.” And then she strikes mercilessly. “It eats away at highways and roads, he writes, “scratching skyscrapers, gutting offices, boardrooms and lobbies. Tall buildings twist and warp. The bowels of civilization swarm and fly.

As this monster lingers over the South, the Dow plunges 20,000 points, chemical plants spew their toxins into the nation’s water supply, the insurance market implodes, and millions of Americans see their homes carried away.

I gripped the covers of this book as if it might fly out of my hands. Indeed, the disaster wrought by “The Displacements” is not only powerful enough to wipe Miami off the map; it is powerful enough to erase our naive confidence that such a disaster will not come for us.

To break our well-supported denial, Holsinger introduces us to Daphne, the mother of two and stepmother to a disgruntled teenager who recently dropped out of Stanford. Daphne would like to focus more on her work as a ceramist, but her husband, a seasoned surgeon, has a way of downplaying his ambitions.

We meet this wealthy family, with well contained tensions, during the preparations for a gallery exhibition and a birthday. But then the sky darkens and the Governor of Florida issues an evacuation order. As her husband rushes to see what he can do at the hospital, Daphne grabs the children and flees north. “Miami has withstood dozens of hurricanes over the decades,” she thinks. “They are going to check into a hotel, wait out the storm and come back the day after tomorrow.”

She doesn’t know it, but she and her kids are embarking on a wet version of “The Grapes of Wrath,” with the Joads Hudson sedan replaced by a Honda Odyssey. (Holsinger’s novel even comes with its own version of Steinbeck’s intervening chapters.) Anything that can go wrong does. Soon, Daphne will no longer be able to reach her husband! She can’t find her purse!! SHE CANNOT USE HER CREDIT CARDS!!! (If “The Moves” doesn’t encourage you to take climate change more seriously, it will at least encourage you to check your spouse’s bank statements more carefully.)

Running out of gas, cash, cell phone, Daphne and her children are reduced to trudging along with the unwashed masses in “a climate-induced diaspora”. Their destination is one of 18 megashelters in the country – sprawling tent cities that function as rescue centers or concentration camps, according to rumours.

“Twenty-four hours ago, I was the wife of a wealthy surgeon leaving my huge house with three children and a dog in a hybrid SUV,” she thinks. “Now I’m a sweaty, penniless refugee dragging a roller bag down a rural road.”

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In case you missed the point here, Daphne’s thoughts go back to a book club meeting when she and her friends were discussing a non-fiction bestseller about climate change. “What stood out at the time were the warnings about the leveling effects of even short-term warming, the author’s sentiment,” Daphne recalls, “in the surprising way soon the crisis would begin to engulf even the privileged, the well-protected, the complacent unconscious.

While Holsinger is as subtle as a Category 6 hurricane, he also twists his novel around an uncanny tension: while mocking the elitism that marks our national response to natural disasters, he also harnesses that elitism to effect. dramatic. It is, after all, a work of suburban horror carefully crafted to take away the anxieties of upper-middle-class white readers. As “The Displacements” slows down and sinks into the frustrations of living in a massive relief camp, the story is reminiscent of Houston’s Astrodome after Katrina – except here we witness what one character sardonically calls of “catastrophe of whiteness”. In such moments of self-awareness, “The Displacements” feels like it deconstructs, challenging not just Daphne’s privilege but her own as well.

What unfolds inside the camp turns into a microcosm of the country’s divisions exacerbated by racial prejudice, illicit drugs and concealed weapons. And Holsinger offers incisive speculation about how such an existential crisis might reshape our political rhetoric and create a new class of “undeserving” refugees to be despised and eliminated.

Yet for all its panoramic vision of our future national hellscape – Hieronymus Bosch, but damp – “The disps” remains focused on the intimate details of Daphne’s family life after the hurricane rips off all possible support. As befits her starring role in this meteorological melodrama, she will discover a strength she never knew she possessed. Others around him will be reduced to rubble.

Time turns. Start preparing now.

Ron Charles book reviews and writing Book club newsletter for the Washington Post.

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