On Such a Full Sea (Hardcover)$27.95ISBN-13: 9781594486104
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Riverhead Hardcover, 1/2014As a new year rolls into our smog ridden valley, it seems appropriate to think about where we’re all headed. Four major literary authors—Margaret Atwood, Dave Eggers, Richard Powers and Chang-Rae Lee have so done in dark terms recently. All four have written dystopian novels about the ways decisions made and actions taken today are shaping our tomorrows. Chang Rae Lee, one of our country’s most visionary writers, imagines a future in which the air has become unbreathable and the water undrinkable in China and entire populations have been evacuated, sent to this country where the air is not yet lethal to populate labor settlements. These self-contained settlements produce food and clothing for the gated communities of the wealthy; the inhabitants, who consider themselves fortunate to be alive, obey rules, follow schedules, seldom think creatively and seem as passive as the invisible narrator who tells us this tale.
Set in one such settlement, B-Mor (once Baltimore), the story centers around Fan, a young woman whose job is to care for the giant aquariums where fish are bred and raised as food. Fan has fallen for Reg, a young man liked by pretty much everyone, who mysteriously disappears. Fan leaves to search for him, something unheard of in this community of bovine rule-followers, and suddenly the community itself turns restless, committing small acts of rebellion that increase as speculation about the whereabouts of Fan and Reg grows.
Fan meanwhile embarks on a peripatetic journey, her adventurous and suspense laden encounters enforcing the picture of a world set up to protect the haves from the have-nots. As our narrator pieces together Fan’s story, that of her community takes on shape and substance as well. We see the rise and fall of what could become a political movement there.
What emerges finally from this back-and-forth narrative, is a tale of ordinary people grappling with the social and environmental consequences of decisions made by others. Chang-Rae Lee examines those consequences in intriguing ways, but perhaps more importantly he examines the decisions made by his own characters, the ways in which choice molds character. Like all his other novels, On Such a Full Sea is breathless in the reading and brilliant in the telliing. One can only hope it’s not prophetic. Don’t miss Chang-Rae Lee’s appearances at the Utah Symposium in Science and Literature March 5th through March 7th.
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