Disobedient women in Pittsburgh are sent to the McKee Place, Home for Pregnant Women, a prison where North shows us four women bonding: computer programmer Jane was caught working, blind Millie is forbidden to live alone while her husband recuperates in the hospital, party girl Angelica’s gay father of her baby won’t marry her, and 15-year-old Wendy refuses to return to her sadistic rapist husband. North humanizes these protagonists in an inhuman society that infantilizes women, touts bogus “research” from unscrupulous universities, and bombards the population with propaganda lies, such as claims about women’s responsibility for being raped.
Eventually, the cast of this well-paced, engagingly horrific story learns the true purpose of the Auction—and that women in other countries are free to work and keep their own babies. After tragedy strikes, the four women use their skills, along with the help of sympathetic men, to hatch a plan to set things right. Readers will toggle between rage and hope as they immerse themselves in North’s meticulous worldbuilding that exposes the hypocrisy and illogic of brutal government policies, stifling bureaucracy, and government censorship. North crafts a memorable and emotional thrill ride through an unnerving society with intelligent and inspirational characters who strive to create their own destiny.
Takeaway: This unsettling yet encouraging story of a woman-subjugating dystopia will appeal to fans of resonant cautionary tales.
Great for fans of: Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Naomi Alderman’s The Power.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A
The Auction by Elci North is a speculative fiction novel set in a moderately near future where the laws surrounding reproductive rights have drastically changed. Rape is a myth. Women are at their best in the home. Their husbands are the best caretakers. Babies are the government's golden geese and are sold to the highest bidders. North develops the stories of four pregnant women and narrates them from their own point of view. Each has a unique backstory and all are radically different. Jane, Angelica, Wendy, and Millie are all victims of the system, and all as different from each other as any four women could possibly be. But they share one fate in the lead-up to their babies being born and auctioned: The Home for Pregnant Women, aka pregnancy prison.
Elci North creates a fantastically creative new government order under a utilitarian rule in The Auction. I love how just enough aspects of American society remain unchanged to keep the general population subdued by way of “it could be much worse” gaslighting. The writing is exceptional. I loved the way each woman's predicament paved their path of misery to the prison, and how none had even the tiniest shred of agency to prevent what happened to them. The auction itself is unique in that it is the women and the husbands they conceived their babies with, like it or not, who are the bidders. Everyone there has had their biological child put into the auction listing, and each will leave with a baby; one that is unlikely to be theirs and that comes with a price tag they can afford. The way the women come together is organic, as is the dialogue and the believability of their backstory. I went into this book out of curiosity and came out the other side as an Elci North fan. Very, very highly recommended.