Laura van den Berg
Find Me by young American writer Laura van den Berg, is a major achievement for a first novel, to put it mildly.
It is a towering achievement – a book piercingly intimate in the most challenging of circumstances.
It has been dubbed a dystopian novel, which is another way of saying that it’s set in a nasty world that hasn’t happened yet.
Usually I avoid all such novels on principle; our present world is quite bad enough for me already, thanks.
But Find Me is exceptional. It is a brilliant conception and execution of the “what if?” question in a ravaged world.
It focuses less on whatever catastrophe has already occurred on Earth – some sort of nasty plague that kills some but not all who are infected – but rather on the painful effects of isolation for those who, for unknown reasons, have managed, perhaps only temporarily, to survive the outbreak.
The first half of the novel is outstanding (there are two sections – one set in an isolation building, the other in the not-so-great-anymore outside world).
Joy, a lost young woman from a damaged background, struggles to make ends meet in a dead-end job. Then she, like so many around her, discovers silvery scale-like scabs on her body, and memory loss, and assumes the worst – that she, too, has been infected.
For some reason, though, she does not die, and along with over a 100 other survivors, is placed in the bleak upper floor of a remote, disused institution where they must learn to cope with the uncertainties of loss, not only of their potential future but also of those they once loved – if they remember them at all.
They are not prisoners in the formal sense, but may not leave. In reality they are lab rats, studied by teams trying to find scientific solutions regarding their ability to resist the superbug. Every now and then their loss is amplified by the physical removal of another in their throng, one who is never seen again. They know what this means.
Joy, longing for some form of human contact and comfort, does “escape” to find the one person she knows cares about her – a foster brother. They travel secretively, feral, trying to figure out the world around them, as Joy wonders if those who have lost their memories are somehow better off,
Van den Berg – despite her surname she is not South African – has been described as one of the finest young writers in America today, and it’s easy to see why.
This book took me by surprise and I’m glad that I changed my mind and read it anyway. Impressive.