University of New Orleans Press. 272 pages. $15.95
Imagining a Mississippi Delta area significantly transformed by decades of ferocious hurricanes, Moira Crone takes us to a realm of islands where immortals rule and the rest live lives of aspiration or rebellion in a caste-bound, static society. Who wouldn’t want to become an Heir, a medical marvel with a replaceable designer outer body (prodermis) that keeps one looking youthful and in style? Who wouldn’t want to join the power elite and control the resources of the 22nd century United Authority (UA), its various districts and protectorates?
Who wouldn’t want to be taken care of by the administrative bureaucracies of WELLFI and WELLVAC? In Ms. Crone’s fascinating vision, at once inspired and grotesque, the health system is equivalent to the government. (Sound familiar?)
How much room is there for new Heirs when the existing ones are immortal? How powerful is the incentive to become one when the path requires so many years of subservience and discipline and medical transformation? When the system works no better than the moral compass of its leaders?
The novel’s protagonist and narrator, 20-year old Malcolm de Lazarus, is a Not Yet. He has spent much of his life as a performer for the amusement of the Heirs. As an orphan who has been selected for Heir status, he has now approached the boundary-time for his remaking. However, something is wrong: the Trust established to maintain him – hypothetically forever – has been compromised. He sets out to determine the facts and to discover if it’s possible to restore his Trust (at once faith and funds).
Malcolm’s voyage, which moves both forward and backward (to the orphanage where he and others were raised), takes on a mythical feel while raising key philosophical questions about identity, loyalty, rules, and the limits of human wish fulfillment.
What amazes about Moira Crone’s novel is not only the boldness of the premise, but also the startling minutiae of its execution. The Not Yet transports us to several distinct geo-political subdivisions of the UA, presents a wide range of crisply individualized characters that represent different classes, and conjures up over two centuries of imagined world history that leads up to the ongoing present of 2121. Crone extrapolates from today’s biomedical research to its fulfillment and application in the future.
That said, there are some difficulties for readers to overcome. . . .
To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in Southern Literary Review, click here: April Read of the Month: “The Not Yet,” by Moira Crone