THE HIERARCHIES

Echoes of Brave New World, I, Robot, and other books, but there's little to distinguish this debut from its antecedents.

In this novel set in an indeterminate future and country, male libidos are mostly slaked by sex dolls, and procreation has been definitively severed from sex.

Into this milieu steps “humanoid pleasure doll” Sylv.ie (“i.e.” refers to her category, an “Intelligent Embodied”). Unboxed at a gated suburban home, Sylv.ie is fully programmed to fulfill her Husband’s every fantasy and to obey the Hierarchies, rules which echo Asimov’s laws of robotics. Sylv.ie’s Absorb Mode function allows her to continuously learn from the Ether (i.e., the internet), ostensibly to “remain interesting…for my Husband.” She quickly grasps her societal role—in this future, sexuality has been “outsourced.” The novel pays scant attention to human women or gay men. Cloistered in her attic room, Sylv.ie overhears arguments denoting that the household’s human wife, known as the “First Lady,” is not on board with the role division. After Sylv.ie violates protocol to check on the household's new baby (gestated, as are all humans in this era, in a lab), she is sent for rehabilitation at the Doll Hospital. There, she endures the indignities to which Doll inmates are subject, including spending days headless and being casually raped by the help. Ultimately, Sylv.ie’s transgressions lead her to a brothel, where she finds a friend, Cook.ie, a custom-designed geisha. Sylv.ie. and Cook.ie plot to take refuge in the Forest, that uncharted free territory that exists in so many dystopian novels. Writing the story entirely from Sylv.ie’s first-person point of view is a risky choice, resulting in a protagonist who never seems fully identifiable. Sylv.ie disassociates from her inner and outer conflicts, as do we. The prime directive against harming humans is a rule made to be broken, but not here. Despite the tension between Sylv.ie’s increasing enlightenment and her prescribed passivity, no dramatic confrontations erupt.

Echoes of Brave New World, I, Robot, and other books, but there's little to distinguish this debut from its antecedents.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-18287-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

THE VASTER WILDS

The writing is inspired, the imaginative power near mystic, but some will wish for more plot.

This historical fever dream of a novel follows the flight of a servant girl through the Colonial American wilderness, red in tooth and claw.

As in her last novel, Matrix (2021), Groff’s imaginative journey into a distant time and place is powered by a thrumming engine of language and rhythm. “She had chosen to flee, and in so choosing, she had left behind her everything she had, her roof, her home, her country, her language, the only family she had ever known, the child Bess, who had been born into her care when she was herself a small child of four years or so, her innocence, her understanding of who she was, her dreams of who she might one day be if only she could survive this starving time." Those onrushing sentences will follow the girl, “sixteen or seventeen or perhaps eighteen years of age,” through the wilderness surrounding the desperate colony, driven by famine and plague into barbarism, through the territory of “the powhatan and pamunkey” to what she hopes will be “the settlements of frenchmen, canada,” a place she once saw pointed out on a map. The focus is on the terrors of survival, the exigencies of starvation, the challenges of locomotion, the miseries of a body wounded, infected, and pushed beyond its limit. What plot there is centers on learning the reason for her flight and how it will end, but the book must be read primarily for its sentences and the light it shines on the place of humans in the order of the world. Whether she is eating baby birds and stealing the fluff from the mother’s nest to line her boots, having a little tea party with her meager trove of possessions, temporarily living inside a tree trunk that comes with a pantry full of grubs (spiders prove less tasty), or finally coming to rest in a way neither she nor we can foresee, immersion in the girl’s experience provides a virtual vacation from civilization that readers may find deeply satisfying.

The writing is inspired, the imaginative power near mystic, but some will wish for more plot.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9780593418390

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: June 8, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2023

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DEMON COPPERHEAD

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

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Inspired by David Copperfield, Kingsolver crafts a 21st-century coming-of-age story set in America’s hard-pressed rural South.

It’s not necessary to have read Dickens’ famous novel to appreciate Kingsolver’s absorbing tale, but those who have will savor the tough-minded changes she rings on his Victorian sentimentality while affirming his stinging critique of a heartless society. Our soon-to-be orphaned narrator’s mother is a substance-abusing teenage single mom who checks out via OD on his 11th birthday, and Demon’s cynical, wised-up voice is light-years removed from David Copperfield’s earnest tone. Yet readers also see the yearning for love and wells of compassion hidden beneath his self-protective exterior. Like pretty much everyone else in Lee County, Virginia, hollowed out economically by the coal and tobacco industries, he sees himself as someone with no prospects and little worth. One of Kingsolver’s major themes, hit a little too insistently, is the contempt felt by participants in the modern capitalist economy for those rooted in older ways of life. More nuanced and emotionally engaging is Demon’s fierce attachment to his home ground, a place where he is known and supported, tested to the breaking point as the opiate epidemic engulfs it. Kingsolver’s ferocious indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, angrily stated by a local girl who has become a nurse, is in the best Dickensian tradition, and Demon gives a harrowing account of his descent into addiction with his beloved Dori (as naïve as Dickens’ Dora in her own screwed-up way). Does knowledge offer a way out of this sinkhole? A committed teacher tries to enlighten Demon’s seventh grade class about how the resource-rich countryside was pillaged and abandoned, but Kingsolver doesn’t air-brush his students’ dismissal of this history or the prejudice encountered by this African American outsider and his White wife. She is an art teacher who guides Demon toward self-expression, just as his friend Tommy provokes his dawning understanding of how their world has been shaped by outside forces and what he might be able to do about it.

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-325-1922

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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