Swift’s bracing debut thriller envisions a New York where career-minded parents allow fascist institutions to raise their children.
It’s the near future, and the president is a smiling subordinate to the corporations that rule America; individuals rely more on technology than each other; and public schools have been abolished. Richard Carson and his wife, Carol, are Manhattan lawyers. While she’s passionate about law, Richard’s dream is to become a novelist. They’ve sent their young son, Christopher, to the Newman Home, a technologically savvy school, where he’s raised and educated full time. One day, to Carol’s chagrin, Richard decides to take the summer off from his firm and write. He also suggests they bring Christopher home on a summer sabbatical from Newman so they can bond with him. Carol strongly disagrees, arguing that the boy will fall behind in his intensive curriculum. Nevertheless, they bring Christopher home. Once there, however, their son is nervous and robotic, showing no personality. Then, while stroking the boy’s head before bed one night, Richard finds an incision scar behind his ear. Is the sinister mark related to Christopher’s malaise and Newman’s reluctance to give him up? This irresistible premise taps into modern paranoia about corporate control and social disengagement. Swift’s propulsive tale arrives in bite-sized chapters. Truly riveting, though, is Swift’s dialogue; when a Newman representative tells Richard his son can’t leave a class, she says, “I’m sorry, but we have the other residents to think of.” He replies, “And I only have one to think of.” Commentary on actual public policies is equally searing: “They were trying to create a new profit center. No child left behind? All the kids were left behind.” Occasionally, Swift projects his sensibilities as a writer through Richard, which can feel intrusive—“Finally, he knew he had a story to tell rather than a message to send”—a minor complaint about an incredibly successful work.
Why can’t all thrillers be this satisfying?