WHEN SHE WOKE by Hilary Jordan

Book Quote:

” ‘Hannah Elizabeth Payne, having been found guilty of the crime of murder in the second degree, I hereby sentence you to undergo melachoming by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, to spend thirty days in the Chrome ward of the Crawford State Prison and to remain a Red for a period of sixteen years.’ ”

Book Review:

Review by Betsey Van Horn  (OCT 6, 2011)

Hannah Payne is twenty-six years old and Red, with a capital R, her badge of shame. Her skin has been “melachromed” by the State for her crime of abortion, and for not naming the abortionist and not identifying the father, the celebrated pastor and TV (“vid”) evangelist, Aidan Dale, who is now the nation’s “Secretary of Faith.” Her sentence is thirty days confinement, and then sixteen years in the community as a Red, where she will be constantly ostracized and persecuted.

Other criminals of the same or different color (depending on the crime) are wandering through the prison of life, beyond the walls of crowded cells (this is the State’s answer for overcrowding), and many don’t survive — the Blue child molesters have especially low survival rates. Hannah is deeply in love with the married Aiden, and refuses to upbraid him or the doctor who was kind and tender to her. She is also a product of her religious upbringing, and when she wakes up Red, she concedes that she deserves this punishment.

Many dystopian novels are noir and bleak -— you can just hear Mahler’s symphonies in your imagination -— the lost world of childhood, the yearning of fulfillment, life’s despair and discord. Therefore, Jordan’s more insistent, high-strung tone in reimagining a liberal interpretation of The Scarlett Letter, Hawthorne’s gothic melodrama, was unexpected. Her exuberance is like a lit match that never goes out. It has a pumping action, much like Dennis Lehane’s in his Kenzie and Gennaro series.

It also conforms to the margins of conventional genre more than the open-endedness of literature; Hannah is portrayed as a solid, misunderstood hero, and the demarcation of villain/hero-martyr is obvious and continuous with the secondary characters as well, except for a surprising and complex French radical named Simone, the most intriguing character in this tale. Much of the time, Hannah is on the lam with her newfound Red friend, Kayla, and heartily braves and overcomes dangerous hurdles at a page-turning glee.

In this near-future world, Roe v Wade has been overturned, and most of the fifty states have outlawed abortion. The government métier is fundamental New Testament, and is ruthless and unforgiving in its Kingdom-minded law. From reading this book, it appears that abortion is the primary preoccupation of the militant State, and that Aidan Dale is the only celebrity on the vid. Much of the novel takes place in the North Dallas area, where Jordan partly grew up. She knows the ingrained and forceful pieties of the area (the actual geographical area of Roe v Wade), and seems to draw on them. She started this book even before Mudbound, and it is left to wonder if she was shaking loose some demons from the Texas Red Oaks.

This is a commercial novel, unlike Mudbound, with a knowing arc and slender, reductive characters. She has a gift for thrumming action, even if it tends toward didacticism and a tidy outcome. This isn’t a novel that provokes thinking, as Jordan does much of the thinking for the reader, but it does provide action and visceral thrills and some poetic lyricism amidst the many indictments against religious zealots.

There is an exquisitely transcendent scene about two-thirds through, where a quietness and stillness pervades for a few pages, and Hannah reaches a key turning point in her life, and expresses it in a way that I hope others won’t fail to appreciate. It may seem lurid at face value, or even gratuitous, but it is anything but —- rather, it is sublime in its implication. This was the high point of refinement in this not typically nuanced novel.

Twists and turns are relentless and exciting, although it is obvious, in this world of morally challenged monkeys running the State, who will prevail. Ambiguity is not a paramount trait in this heavy-handed story with potboiler themes. It is comfort food—like popcorn with a little too much butter, and addictive. The author will keep you fastened till the end, because Jordan’s thrall with her characters and exultance with her story is contagious and highly spirited.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 351 readers
PUBLISHER: Algonquin Books (October 4, 2011)
REVIEWER: Betsey Van Horn
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Hillary Jordan
EXTRAS: Excerpt
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October 10, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Scifi, Texas, Thriller/Spy/Caper, y Award Winning Author

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