The elusive and ever evolving Ball (Census, 2018, etc.) returns with a radical new novel about a divisive future that takes inequality to grotesque extremes.
If they don’t teach Ball’s work in college by now, they should, if only as an example of an author whose books are so different from one another that a reader might not even recognize them as the work of one person save for Ball’s spare prose, eccentric imagination, and pinpoint narrative composition. Perhaps he’s a collective, like Banksy. The story opens with students Lethe and Lois in class the day before a mysterious holiday called Ogias’ Day, which hasn’t happened in more than 50 years. Through their discussions with their drunk, grieving teacher, Mandred, we learn more about their world. Some time ago, an influx of refugees triggered a politician to suggest an extreme solution: They can come in, “as long as we can tell them apart.” Over time, this led to the development of a lower caste of people with no legal standing, all branded with a tattoo of a red hat on their faces, and forced to amputate their thumbs. Any legal citizen, “Pats,” can also kill these “quads” at any time, but on Ogias’ day, the tables are turned. From here, the story flips through different characters in different circumstances but all set in this curious new societal matrix. We learn about a child sacrifice ceremony called the Infanta and about the titular Divers' Game, a legendary and highly risky channel by which children might escape their fate. It’s imaginatively horrifying, even if it doesn’t always make sense, and readers who appreciate Ball’s keen, melancholic, and often sadly satirical view of human society will likely appreciate this timely assessment of where division might take us and how it affects the generations that come after us.
A dystopian novel in the vein of The Handmaid’s Tale, viewed through the children who suffer from our mistakes.