Stories more harrowing than your newsfeed on Facebook.


Futuristic and of-the-moment stories that take aim at innovations that threaten to take us backward.

In this debut collection, South crafts science-fictional scenarios that are just believable enough to be unsettling: In "Keith Prime," babies, born from artificial wombs, are drugged into "perpetual sleep," tended by nurses, and then harvested for valuable organs; and in "Not Setsuko," a mother who has lost her daughter seeks to "duplicate" her in a new one. To do this, she obsessively restages important moments from her dead daughter's life (like the death of the beloved family cat) and, failing that, makes the new Setsuko recite memories from experiences she's never had (like breaking her arm). Throughout, the characters are desperately unhappy and disconnected. Sometimes their coping mechanisms are so extreme it's hard to care, as in "The Promised Hostel," a meandering story that revolves around a group of damaged men suckling at the breasts of a damaged woman. But in the standout pieces, the characters' pain is deeply human and affecting. "Frequently Asked Questions About Your Craniotomy," an FAQ that goes off the rails, reveals that none of us is immune to loss, not even an accomplished neurosurgeon who opens skulls and faces death on a daily basis. And in "You Will Never Be Forgotten," a scathing critique of Silicon Valley and everything the internet has borne, the narrator is a content moderator at a popular search engine, which means she sits in a dark room all day reviewing "hate speech, gore, torture, pornography both adult and child, horrific traffic accidents, executions carried out by terrorists" and removing it. She has also recently been raped by a well-known venture capitalist. This story takes many brilliant twists and turns and culminates in an ending so surprising and inevitable Flannery O'Connor would surely approve.

Stories more harrowing than your newsfeed on Facebook.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-53836-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.


The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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