Set approximately one hundred years from now, America is in crisis. The warmer climate has led a divided country: the storm and drought ravaged south is emptying as citizens flee their battered homes and dust filled farms; in the north communities are under pressure as refugees arrive and set up in caravan parks – the southerners are far from welcome. A wall has already been built between the US and Mexico, and now it is Canada who are under pressure to let in more Americans each year.
Holly is a young British publicist, living in Seattle with husband Richard. Both would consider themselves delicados, the 22nd century word for liberals, but Holly has ambition. When she’s invited to join the presidential campaign for Senator Stephen Slaymaker, a man who stands against everything she says she believes in, she jumps at the chance. After all, his sole vision is to bring America together for a more successful future. Within weeks the battle to push fake news into the ‘whisperstream’ (a sort of futuristic social media) has made her his right hand woman, complicit in every move the campaign makes. Her challenge is to decide how far she will support Slaymaker’s strategies when they begin to diverge from the initial focus.
The great strength of this novel is how close Beckett drives it to our current situation. There is reference to the Tyranny, a 21st century calamity which, reading between the lines, could be the resultant fall out from the current US presidency. In the wake of this year’s storms, it doesn’t seem so unlikely that in a few decades it will be impossible to get insurance on homes in those areas, or that the houses and businesses would become worthless. Add in the increase in AI and robots, a decrease in manual labour jobs, and the situation put forward reads as an inevitability.
There was a sense of inevitability in the way that events play out in terms of the ‘human element’ of Holly and her relationships with Richard and their friends. I was less interested in this aspect and I wasn’t sure either what the Afterword was supposed to add to it. On reflection, this was just played a little too safe. Although there are various precarious situations shown to the reader, they’re a little too distant, all happening to people other than the main protagonists. In one way, this does serve to illustrate how northerners feel about the plight of southerners, that dispassionate idea that bad things happen to other people; on the other hand the human angle could have been so much sharper had danger been present.
Regardless, this was a thrilling read that is being published at exactly the right time.
Thank you to Readers First for the review copy.