Sirott’s impressive debut is a bleak dystopian novel that finds the world in perpetual war and young men running from a deadly draft.
It seems to be the near future—the time and location aren’t specified—and the Homeland is locked in an unwinnable war that sends its young men back dead or mutilated. The war’s 23rd anniversary is about to bring a new round of inductions, and five characters seek refuge in the relatively bohemian Western City North. The central love story, between draft dodger Lance and idealistic radical Lorrie, illustrates the culture’s psychic toll: Lorrie becomes convinced that her body is being overrun by insects; Lance’s frustration turns him physically abusive. Each character chooses a different escape route that proves futile. Childhood friends and possible lovers Benny and Joe search for a fabled text of forbidden escape routes, which turns out to be a book of bad jokes. Lance stands up and protests and winds up imprisoned. Alan, a teenage runaway whose race makes him a prime target for induction, falls in with an ineffective resistance group, the Baldheads. A nationwide rebellion, built on the belief that the prime minister is hoarding a life-extending drug, also seems a dead end. The story’s explosive conclusion is probably unsatisfying on purpose: nothing is destined to change.
Sirott doesn’t always succeed in drawing clear parallels between Homeland’s dysfunction and our own. Nonetheless, this is a gripping story told with haunting atmosphere and cathartic anger.