The Death of the American Dream

The Death of the American Dream by Cora BuhlertThey came out of nowhere to attack America’s towns and suburbs: Giant mutant crabs and other creatures, grown to enormous size due to nuclear radiation and bent on destroying the American way of life. But while many fall to the monster attacks, an advertising executive finds the unexpected strength to survive and fight back for the sake of his family…

This is a short story of 5300 words or approximately 20 print pages.



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More information:

  • The Death of the American Dream is a short story of 5300 words. This story is a digital premiere and has never been published previously.
  • Like quite a few stories I’ve written, The Death of the American Dream was inspired by a piece of science fiction or fantasy art, in this case this painting by artist John Brosio called “Fatigue”. Other paintings by John Brosio – namely this one, which features the same character as the first, as well as this one and this one – also influenced the story.
  • While I was writing The Death of the American Dream, I was also watching Mad Men. Both ran together in my mind and so the story basically turned into Don Draper meets giant monsters and the apocalypse. And indeed, the neighbours who drive away in their fully loaded station wagon are named for Matthew Weiner, creator of Mad Men.
  • If you take the Mad Men parallels further, then yeah, I killed off Betty Draper or rather her analogue in The Death of the American Dream. But then, I’ve always found Betty Draper incredibly unlikable and didn’t even get at first that we were supposed to sympathise with her.
  • There is no single explanation for the creatures and their sudden appearance offered, only several theories. The most likely explanation of those given is that the creatures have mutated due to radiation emissions from nuclear power plants such as the one at Indian Point.
  • The period in which the story is set is not specified, but there are several hints such as the presence of a hippie in bellbottom jeans, the “new nuclear power plant at Indian Point” (which opened in 1974), the narrator intending to blame the monsters on Communists, hippies or those European terrorists called “Red Army something or other” (a reference to West Germany’s Red Army Faction and Italy’s Red Brigades, two far-left terrorist groups most active in the 1970s) as well as the complete absence of the internet which place the story in the early 1970s.
  • Shady Acres is fictional, yet intended to be a bedroom community somewhere in upstate New York.
  • Graymalkin Road, where the unnamed narrator passes a flock of giant chickens demolishing a strip mall, is named after the road on which the Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters lies in the X-Men comics. And of course the X-Men comics are not just about mutants, the Xavier Institute is also located in upstate New York, where the story is set.
  • The title The Death of the American Dream was a last minute change – indeed, the original title was Giant Mutant Crabs Ate My Cadillac, which pretty much gives the plot away in the headline. I came up with the new title once I realised that most of the apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic stories I write are about smashing up suburbia as a symbol of the bourgeois middle class and its mediocrity. And since no country has suburbs more stifling and uniform than the US – there’s a reason US suburbs are ready made horror settings, after all – and yet suburbia is apparently aspirational for many Americans, the title The Death of the American Dream (quite literally via smashing up suburbs, Cadillacs, billboards and other symbols of American consumerism) seemed very fitting.
  • It’s not just me, either. Watch any apocalyptic movie or giant monster flick and look what gets smashed and how gleefully the camera lingers on the destruction.
  • Though the story can also be enjoyed as a straightforward and unpolitical tale of giant monsters attacking civilisation.
  • The cover image is stock art by Kenna Sato, with a clipart image of a crab and a Cadillac added in, since stock images of giant crabs attacking cities are thin on the ground indeed.
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