In a New Dystopian Novel, the Country is AutoAmerica, but Baseball Is Still Its Pastime

In a New Dystopian Novel, the Country is AutoAmerica, but Baseball Is Still Its Pastime

Word gets out about her talent. When coed baseball becomes a new Olympic sport, she’s wanted in the Netted world. AutoAmerica needs to defeat ChinRussia. This is her chance to cross over to the plush world with her family. Will she?

Jen, whose previous novels include “Mona in the Promised Land” and “World and Town,” is a wonderfully gifted writer. But “The Resisters” is not among her best novels; it never sinks its hooks into the reader.

In part, this is because we have dystopian novel overload, a condition Jill Lepore diagnosed in The New Yorker a few years ago. In part, too, it’s because Jen exerts so much effort constructing her world, this book’s hardware, that the human software is underdeveloped. There’s not a lot of human juice here, those micro-pleasures of perception that fill much of her earlier fiction; there’s merely a rolling scenario.

Jen writes herself into a corner at times. During one long section of the novel, Gwen crosses over and attends a Netted college while playing for its baseball team. Obviously her father can’t go with her. How to keep tabs on this novel’s most important character when its narrator is left behind? Grant decides to bug her room, to listen to her conversations. That’s one way inside. But it’s hard to imagine behavior that so absolutely cuts against the grain of this family’s politics. It’s like watching Victor Navasky name names.

Once in a while, this novel opens a small box of dread. But there’s a tameness here, too. You know there’s going to be a big game at the end. You sense that, within certain limits, everything is going to be okay. To borrow imagery from a less literary sport, you feel that this novel’s bowling lane has bumper rails.

There are moments in “The Resisters” that remind you what an extremely fine writer Jen is. Grant watches a “SkyCar” descend into its charging shed:

“Was not the billowing of the SkyCar’s luminescent wings astonishing? Or what about the landing gear that bent at the ankles so that the vehicle could descend, not parallel to the ground, but at a 45-degree angle? How Leonardo da Vinci would have loved this thing, I thought, as the machine reached out its wheels like a hawk about to snatch a vole with its claws.”

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