Incurable Graphomania
by Anna Krivolapova
(Apocalypse Confidential, 2023)

Apocalypse Confidential, a magazine that bills itself as a pulp publication for “edgy extrapolations, fringe fascinations, occult obsessions, risky ruminations, and aberrant associations,” never fails to bring the high weirdness. If one were to build an APCON writer, the Yakubian creation would look like something between a dead-eyed graduate student and an MKUltra victim. This writer would be all in with every conspiracy theory, and their tuna-stained blazer (stolen from Goodwill) would hide several skeleton keys just in case they need to pull off a quick home invasion. What I am saying is simple: Apocalypse Confidential attracts intelligent weirdos.

Anna Krivolapova is one such oddball, and Incurable Graphomania is her testament. This collection of 15 stories is not merely strange, but deeply disturbing. The tales in this volume have a few uniting threads. First, most of these yarns are set in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. The Mid-Atlantic is a schizophrenic and liminal space. When most people think of it, they think of Manhattan elegance or Mafioso types driving through North Jersey in ostentatious displays of ill-gotten wealth. But the Mid-Atlantic is far more than New York: it is the wealthy defense contractors of northern Virginia living next to the slums of Prince George’s County, Maryland; it is the Jersey Devil and the Sheepsquatch of West Virginia; it is the dizzying diversity of accents and attitudes of Pennsylvania. It is where New England dies and where the South lives in uncomfortable proximity to the Midwest. Incurable Graphomania is not exactly regional literature, but it is a book with a definite sense of “place.”

Next, Krivolapova’s collection cuts up about the immigrant experience, specifically the experience of being an Eastern European woman in post-2008 economic collapse America. It seems like every other person in this book is Russian or Ukrainian or Bulgarian. They’re always smoking. They’re always living semi-underground in the black market, or just generally depressed economy. Many stories are interspersed with foreign words, and a reader cannot escape the undeniably Slavophile flavor of Incurable Graphomania. It is as if Red Scare started working the night shift at Wawa in Luzerne County.

Finally, Incurable Graphomania is a book for those who enjoy unexpected twists or subtle, but shocking turn of events. The opener, “First Person Shooter,” spends the majority of its time recounting the alcohol-fueled bender of its protagonist. Riley goes from the King of Prussia Mall outside of Philly to the tony beach houses of Cape May, New Jersey. She drinks and eats all alone. Her “company” (and that word can only be used loosely) are the teens attending the defense-tech summer camp across the street. She makes friends and even plays a VR first-person shooter at a major corporate shindig.

Then, out of the blue, there is a massacre. Riley sits on her porch as they put the kids in body bags. A gun gets thrown into the weeds. She leaves town.

“First Person Shooter” is not aberrant in terms of tone or style for Incurable Graphomania. “Entrails Over the Country Club” recounts a random and seemingly pointless hostage situation following a wedding reception. “Heart of a Dog” is a whacko noir about Russian-Czech dog breeders who also have their hands stained red with crime and intelligence operations. “The Taco Bell in the Center of the Pentagon,” which was originally published as a short story by Apocalypse Confidential, is a meandering story about Ukrainian immigrants, life as a hotel worker, suicide, revenge, and Jewish mysticism. Trust me, it all makes sense.

“The Reagan-Blair Manifesto” and “Jersey Devil’s Breath” (originally published by Hobart Pulp) are personal favorites. The former story is framed by a crime on campus, but it quickly becomes a study of multiple conspiracy theories that may or may not have something to do with a radical Chinese girl who calls everyone “comrades.” Drugs do play a role, of course, but the manifesto of the title does ask some semi-serious questions about how the Internet programs (see: brainwashes) people, and about how the growth of trauma care and the therapy state is all fed by violent acts committed by individuals previously programmed. Crazy, right?

“Jersey Devil’s Breath” is the longest story in the collection and alternately the most pedestrian. “Pedestrian” is not a negative appellation, but rather it denotes the fact that this story lacks the absurdity of the others. “Jersey Devil’s Breath” is a gutter crime drama about a worker at a rundown New Jersey pharmacy who uses customer information liberally. Said worker is also involved in drugs and private espionage, otherwise known as stalking. And like the vast majority of stories in Incurable Graphomania, “Jersey Devil’s Breath” does not have a conclusive ending. It is fog and suggestion; it is the conspiracy that never ends.

Two tales, “Skin in the Game” and “Expert Witness,” depict a dystopian future wherein dead bodies and flesh are harvested for new surgeries, people change their names like they change their socks, and crime prevention is outsourced to starving gig workers who are paid in peanut butter. These descriptions have probably already convinced you that black humor is prevalent in Incurable Graphomania. This is true, and arguably the funniest moments occur in “Refrigerator Death Index” between the well-heeled AWFL and her flock of foreign import children. The fact that these carefully selected kids from Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America are only fed approximations of their national diet is both hilarious and uncomfortably realistic.

Incurable Graphomania is a delirious and delicious expansion of the growing APCON cannon. This book is bizarre, and it’s great. Krivolapova writes with a deft hand. Her strength primarily lies with dialogue, but few can write outsider types as well as she. Then again, you could make the argument that everyone in this book is an outsider type, so maybe the author only knows such figures. Either way, Incurable Graphomania is solid fringe lit that blows away its mainstream competition. At the sake of sounding redundant, dissident indie lit is the only literature that matters right now. I want to read about Ukrainian ex-prostitutes living turbulent lives in the Old Line State or IRL schizos overdosing on subreddits. I do not want to read whatever the chattering classes are raving about, because it is the same thing they raved about in 2016 and 2018 and 2020. The mainstream is hack; Incurable Graphomania is not. That is really all that matters.

Click here to buy Incurable Graphomania.