Short Story Review: “The Disappearance” by James Hatton

Mark Twain in Athens

[Prefatory note: Here at Bookbread I’m starting a new series, one where I will review short stories I’ve read. I’ll try to review one at a time (in about one paragraph), but possibly intersperse those singular reviews with commentary that compares and contrasts various stories. But I want to keep the general focus on one-short-story-at-a-time. Most of the things I’ll review were written in the last five years.]

As of April 1, 2020, everyone is relating every experience, action, thought (including specific acts and overall habits of reading) to the fallout from the outbreak of the Corona virus.

We are so overly focused on this one moment in our lives that it distorts the relations of this one moment to all others we’ve experienced and all the ones left to come.

Our tunnel vision has blotted out the periphery.

We are tainted by the current Zeitgeist—our fingers are filthy from trying to properly pin the tail on the beast we call the Spirit of the Times—our worries follow wherever the tail may wag. And if we don’t pin the tail just right, we feel we’ll end up like Eeyore—a donkey detached from his tail, someone less than they once were.

I don’t know how to avoid relating everything back to the Corona virus, particularly when it comes to reviewing apocalyptic short stories written by contemporary authors.

I can only admit that I don’t know how to avoid it; I can only emit a sense of enmity toward it.

I must learn to bound—and by bounding get beyond the inevitable referent of the viral outbreak.


I read James Hatton’s short story “The Disappearance” over a year ago when it was published in 2018 by PopShot Quarterly magazine, and I meant to write something about it then. Alas, it got put aside. (2019 was, for me as a writer, pretty much a year of “regrouping.”) But I’ve come back to the story, and due to present circumstances, can’t help but compare it (or relate it rather) to the ongoing quarantine and chaos.

“The Disappearance” is an apocalyptic story told by an omnipotent, third-person narrator during a time and place where, for its characters “in their secluded life here, miles from anywhere, it had all seemed so far away.”

There occurs a change of circumstances for the characters Tom and Catherine. Then they get used to the change. Then, more change occurs.

Despite obvious comparisons to the current situation, I thought “The Disappearance” a worthwhile story a year ago. Its theme of alienation didn’t have to be plague-induced in order to be potent.

Though it compares well with the present unpleasantness—reading Hatton’s story now also reminds me of when the days of the earth did not stand so still. And this reminding is, for me now, a kind of escapism from the lockdown we continue to undergo. Reading “The Disappearance” lets me escape back into an old feeling—“some old need,” as the narrator puts it, “to be moving towards something.”

The springtime anole iguanas are helping me forget about you-know-what.


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