On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee (Riverhead Books, 2014, 368 pages)
Alright, book-people, gather 'round and listen up: On Such a Full Sea is everything you could wish for in a tale about a near-future dystopian America told by a communal narrator. It's brilliant, beautiful, mythic, and haunting. And I mean each and every one of those adjectives.
Lee's story about one girl's quest to find her vanished boyfriend ultimately becomes one about the implications of living in a rigidly-stratified society, where the people living in the labor settlements (a kind of "middle class") begin to question the meaning and purpose of their lives. B-mor (what was once Baltimore), is the settlement at the heart of the book, a place totally upended when Fan leaves on her likely-fruitless journey. For there is nowhere else to go, really: the "open counties" are violent and poverty-stricken; the "Charters" are walled fortifications within which the wealthy scrutinize every aspect of their lives in order to live as long as they can. Terrified of the counties and desperate to ascend into a Charter, the people of B-mor produce fish and vegetables that sustain the wealthy and pray that nothing will ever disrupt this arrangement.
Fan's decision to walk into the wilds of an America desolate and in decline prompts the B-mors to wonder, for the first time, if what they thought was their sanctuary was actually their prison (physical and psychological). Fear of a disease only known as "C" (cancer?) terrifies everyone from the counties to the Charters, and the quest for a cure becomes all-consuming.
These problems of soulless security and health as a means to an end develop over time as the communal narrator "follows" Fan on her journey, which is ironic, since the B-mors cannot know what actually happens to her, as they are still willingly trapped in their comfortable world. Fan's departure, though, stirs up these questions, and the social order of B-mor begins to degrade, revealing the settlement's flimsy foundation.
On Such a Full Sea is well worth the read. Yes, indeedy.