BLUE TICKET

A moving and original meditation on freedom, fate, and women's rage.

A young woman undermines the state-controlled system that determines motherhood to near-disastrous effect in this chilling follow-up to The Water Cure.

In early puberty, Calla's father takes her to a lottery station, where she chooses a blue ticket from a mysterious machine. Once her fate is determined, Calla must make her way to a city, alone and on foot. If she manages to avoid the roving packs of boys and men who prowl the woods and roadways, Calla will start her adult life as a "blue ticket." In the city, Calla is outfitted with a copper IUD and expected to contribute to society solely through her position as a chemist in a laboratory. "Blue ticket: I was not motherly," Calla thinks. "It had been judged that it wasn't for me by someone who knew better than I did." Her days are filled with work and visits to the combative Doctor A, who monitors blue tickets like Calla. Her evenings are filled with drinking and casual sex. Soon, however, Calla can't resist the pull of the "new and dark feeling" inside her, a "strange, ravaging ghost." Coveting the forbidden lives of the few women who bear white tickets, she removes the IUD on her own using tweezers and enough booze to numb the blinding pain. When Doctor A discovers Calla’s inevitable pregnancy, she's cast out of her house and once again left to fend for herself. Mackintosh renders Calla's internal struggle with deft, lyric precision. What is it about Calla the state determined unmotherly? How will she care for a child without the protection of a family or community? Can she trust the other women she meets on the road, who have also decided to take their fates into their own hands? Like Sarah Hall in Daughters of the North or Leni Zumas in Red Clocks, Mackintosh brings a new sense of pathos to the dystopian novel. Late in the book, Mackintosh reveals that Calla, like other women in her country, has little to no medical knowledge about her own body, especially when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth. They're shocked to learn about the placenta, for example, and have no instinct for how to hold a baby. This detail transforms Calla's haunting quest to become a mother into a heartbreaking bid for self-determination, self-worth, and self-knowledge—no matter the cost.

A moving and original meditation on freedom, fate, and women's rage.

Pub Date: June 30, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-54563-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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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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THE MAN WHO LIVED UNDERGROUND

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

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A falsely accused Black man goes into hiding in this masterful novella by Wright (1908-1960), finally published in full.

Written in 1941 and '42, between Wright’s classics Native Son and Black Boy, this short novel concerns Fred Daniels, a modest laborer who’s arrested by police officers and bullied into signing a false confession that he killed the residents of a house near where he was working. In a brief unsupervised moment, he escapes through a manhole and goes into hiding in a sewer. A series of allegorical, surrealistic set pieces ensues as Fred explores the nether reaches of a church, a real estate firm, and a jewelry store. Each stop is an opportunity for Wright to explore themes of hope, greed, and exploitation; the real estate firm, Wright notes, “collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent from poor colored folks.” But Fred’s deepening existential crisis and growing distance from society keep the scenes from feeling like potted commentaries. As he wallpapers his underground warren with cash, mocking and invalidating the currency, he registers a surrealistic but engrossing protest against divisive social norms. The novel, rejected by Wright’s publisher, has only appeared as a substantially truncated short story until now, without the opening setup and with a different ending. Wright's take on racial injustice seems to have unsettled his publisher: A note reveals that an editor found reading about Fred’s treatment by the police “unbearable.” That may explain why Wright, in an essay included here, says its focus on race is “rather muted,” emphasizing broader existential themes. Regardless, as an afterword by Wright’s grandson Malcolm attests, the story now serves as an allegory both of Wright (he moved to France, an “exile beyond the reach of Jim Crow and American bigotry”) and American life. Today, it resonates deeply as a story about race and the struggle to envision a different, better world.

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59853-676-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Library of America

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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