With the turn of the new year, I decided it was high-time I broaden my literary horizons. After all, I came of age in the ‘80’s and attended a university that deemed literary fiction (often times penned by male authors of western European descent) to be the be-all-and-end-all of that worthy of one’s attention, much less scholarship and acclaim. Fortunately, over my decades of exploration since, I’ve encountered the diversity I sought as a student. However, up to this point, I had yet to venture into the realm of genre fiction and was admittedly more than a bit intimidated by Sci-Fi. Could I suspend my disbelief long enough to allow for the building of a future world? Would I be just as satisfied with a plot-driven work as one rooted within the characters’ internal landscape? Would there be anything of substance that I might take away?
After a bit of online research, I felt that my best introduction lay in Kelley Eskridge’s Solitaire. I was drawn to the idea of a lesbian protagonist (as always), and several reader reviews alluded to well-drawn characters. In addition, Solitaire has received numerous recognitions. The forthcoming film, OtherLife, is noted as being loosely based on the novel.
As it turns out, it was, indeed, the perfect place for my first foray.
Ren “Jackal” Segura was held from the time of her birth as the Hope of Ko, a designation assigned to the first child of her corporate nation-state born in the first second upon the establishment of a one world government. As a Hope, she was given the most special of treatment, from respect and opportunity to outright adoration. Indeed, Jackal was blessed with a charmed life, until her extremely competitive and jealous mother let it slip in a fit of rage, “They give you everything and you don’t deserve it, you’re no more a Hope than I am!” Thus, Jackal unwittingly found herself privy, mere weeks before her investiture, to the unfortunate truth that, though her birth was calculated, she did not arrive into the world until several minutes past midnight.
When news of the cover-up comes to light after an accident in which Jackal is involved, killing 437 people, including an Earth Congress senator, her webmates and dozens of children, Jackal is given the choice of securing her own defense or pleading guilty in order to save her family from punishment. Choosing to protect her family, she is sentenced to 40 years in prison and later given the opportunity to fulfill that sentence within a mere eight years (10 months in real-time) by participating in a virtual confinement program that condenses the experience of real-life solitary confinement into a fraction of the time.
To my relief, the narrative was accessible right from the start, and the world built by Eskridge made logistical sense, even to a novice such as myself. Most of the characters were as well-developed as I anticipated them to be, especially Scully, a “solo” himself, trying to navigate life post-virtual confinement in the best way he knows how. Unfortunately, the least convincing character proves to be Jackal’s partner, Snow, though I’m quite sure this is due to the somewhat improbable interactions between Jackal and her partner rather than anything within the presentation of Snow, herself.
For me, the most compelling points of the story resided within the detailed experiences endured during Jackal’s virtual confinement, penned akin to a diary, revealing a progression from resolve, grief, fear, near-madness and dissociation to self-destiny, as well as the early days of her integration back into society, though one with which she was utterly unfamiliar. Within these chapters, the reader is able to witness Jackal’s internal evolution and the coping strategies she implements in order to keep herself from breaking beyond repair.
More profoundly, Jackal’s journey toward healing and reintegration became my journey, giving me pause within each step of the process. As the reader, I was provided the opportunity to witness, objectively, the benefits and pitfalls of each strategy and reflect upon my own application of it.
The apparent acceptance of a corporatized governmental system left me at something of a loss, however. Although its manipulative omnipresence was haunting throughout, Jackal continues to seek its validation, often expressing her desire to once again belong to Ko. Perhaps the author’s intent was to encourage readers to find ways in which to utilize the system for the public good, but, jaded as I am, I simply couldn’t buy into such a tidy line of thought.
Nevertheless, after a healthy dose of reflection, I continue to take comfort in Jackal’s resilience, the subtly underground communities that support those of us on the fringe and the value of offering hope to those who need it most.