In Maristatter’s dystopian debut novel, a young woman seeks shelter from a theocratic American regime.
Meryn Flint is 18 years old, but she’s not legally allowed to move out of her parents’ house. According to the patriarchal laws of the Christian States of America, Meryn must wait until her stepfather, Ray Esselin, finds her a husband. However, when Ray, in a drunken rage, kills Meryn’s mother for burning some pork chops, Meryn must leave home for her own safety. When she does so, she steps into a world in which she has no rights and few people she can trust. The society is divided into multiple castes, and the most privileged take advantage of genetic engineering. Meryn, however, is a member of the Worker Caste with little hope of advancement. She can either marry her former boyfriend—the well-connected but violent Steffan Hagen—or go rogue and join the off-grid community of Tin Town, where widows and other outcasts build their own houses from scavenged materials. Meryn chooses the latter, and for once in her life, she feels part of a proper community. But will it be enough to keep her safe and free from men who would do her harm? Maristatter’s prose is urgent and imaginative over the course of this novel, and the dystopia it fleshes out is frightfully intricate. In this passage, for instance, Meryn walks through Tin Town for the first time: “The muddy board sidewalk beneath our feet ran the length of the town, its sections uneven and cracked….A door slammed, its metallic screech harsh in the morning air. I caught the reek of stale beer and ‘kitty,’ a synthetic (and illegal) khat drug popular with the Indigent Caste.” Readers will detect shades of such works as Margaret Atwood’s 1985 classic The Handmaid’s Tale and other works of feminist speculative fiction, and, much like the authors of those stories, Maristatter crafts a tale that’s as believable as it is disturbing. It isn’t always subtle, but it’s unquestionably immersive and memorably wrought.
A well-realized work of near-future fiction that echoes timely themes.