On Such a Full Sea
by Chang-Rae Lee
@SPL: FIC Lee
If you’re a reader of dystopian literary fiction (think Margaret Atwood’s most recent book, MaddAddam), then I have something to keep you happily occupied while spring gets its act together. Acclaimed author Chang-Rae Lee (Pulitzer Prize finalist for The Surrendered) is back with a beautifully rendered, deeply creepy work of speculative fiction.
On Such a Full Sea follows the travails of a young woman named Fan, raised since birth in an incredibly strict factory town. B-Mor was founded by Chinese immigrants fleeing their homeland’s environmental destruction.
The novel quickly reveals that B-Mor was established on Baltimore’s remnants, following an invasion that drove out the city’s 21st century inhabitants (subsequently called “the natives.”) This appears to have taken place after the United States suffered a social and environmental crisis of its own.
On an otherwise nondescript day, Fan’s boyfriend Reg disappears without a trace. Rumours speculate he’s been kidnapped by a pharmacorp after his genes were found to be completely resistant to cancer, now rampant in the world’s population. As with disappearances in other totalitarian societies, Reg’s merits little official comment, and his family and friends must suffer his loss without much acknowledgement.
Fan, however, breaks free of B-Mor into the wild surrounding Counties, where no fixed government reigns and there’s no protection from toxins.
The narrator tracks Fan’s compulsive, haphazard movements through the Counties searching for Reg while putting distance between herself and B-Mor. In fact, the narrator is one of this novel’s greatest curiosities. He or she is plainly a resident of B-Mor who is decreasingly interested in appearing to have consumed the proverbial kool-aid.
So, then, how does the narrator know what’s happening to Fan? Why trust the narrator? It’s never resolved, and this adds to the weird, panopticon-like tension experienced by the reader.
Part action novel, part social study, On Such a Full Sea is a richly realized cautionary tale offering no easy answers. It is very highly recommended to any readers of literary fiction who don’t mind an occasional tour into murky dystopia.
– Shauna Costache,
Sunday services supervisor