I'm Starved for You by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is the first of Margaret Atwood's Positron series, a Kindle Singles release available exclusively for Kindle users. I'd gone in with the assumption it was a stand-alone story, but I was happily mistaken. Happily, because I'd love to know what happens next, and I'm not ready to say goodbye to these characters yet.
The story is through the perspectives of Stan and Charmaine, a married couple who's chosen to go to prison for economic viability. A company has set up a program, called Consilience, where one lives and works in the prison for a month, then lives outside it for another month. One may well be working for slave wages and under constant surveillance, but there are three decent meals a day, a roof over one's head, and the trappings of surburbia for six months out of the year.
Despite their strict monitoring (or perhaps because of it), Charmaine begins an affair, conducted in the fuzzy times between her suburban life and her return to prison. Stan finds a note she dropped for her lover, and mistakenly assumes the man's wife left it. He fantasizes about a woman so passionate, while going through the motions with a wife he believes too innocent for such things.
The story is told in present tense, which works so well that I kept forgetting. It's not because of a sense of immediacy, though; the story takes place over the course of several months. Rather, it's the characters' living from one moment to the next, compartmentalizing, so that present tense seems the only way they'd process their lives.
The characters were excellent. Stan and Charmaine appear boring, even to one another, but they have a lot going on. Charmaine seems the least sympathetic, considering she's having an affair, and her job involves a certain kind of moral fiber, but I found her fascinating, instead. Stan is doing his best to appear the upright citizen, even fussing about the terrible care the other guy who shares his house takes of the lawn equipment, but his steps to meet "Jasmine" are sneaky and underhanded. It never crosses his mind, what's really going on under his nose, and I found his innocence almost charming.
I had no trouble believing that these characters would choose the life they did. It actually sounded like a good deal, even compared to today's economic uncertainty. The world I'm Starved for You is set in is even worse than ours, with rampant crime and housing conditions in terrible shape. It seems like it might be the same world as Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, because there's a reference to headless chickens engineered to feel less pain, which could serve as a precursor to Chickie Nobs. The facility also seems like a precursor to the compounds in which Jimmy and Glenn grew up.
What I like best about this story is that, though it's a science fiction dystopia, it's not about the setting. Rather, it's a human story that's highlighted by the setting, and that calls attention to a lot of modern problems.
The story is wrapped up at the end, but it leaves more questions and an upping of the stakes. I already picked up Choke Collar, but there's no release date yet for Moppet Shop, so I may hold off on reading it until I can get through the whole series at once.
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