Add another forthcoming book to the growing list of novels about the collapse of the U.S. Martha Moody, author of Best Friends and The Office of Desire, just sold a dystopian-sounding novel, Sharp and Dangerous Virtues, to Ohio University Press.
It's fascinating to see how many different ways authors imagine the near-future decline and/or fall of the United States of America. In Moody's version, there are food shortages, foreign invaders and ordinary people having to fend for themselves. Here's how Moody's agent, Stephanie Sun, pitches the novel:
Despite its electricity-generating nuclear plant, famous aquifer, and rich history, Dayton is a city in trouble. To combat food shortages during the Short Times of the early 2030's, a dedicated agricultural area known as the Grid has been established by the US government just north of the Dayton. The Grid is over 50,000 square miles and "roughly the shape of a 9-by-12 casserole. Intentional villages dot its landscape, and roads crisscross it at ten mile intervals."
Now, the United States is under attack from a group of nations called the Alliance. Cleveland, on the opposite side of the Grid from Dayton, is an occupied city. The Alliance is eyeing the Grid for itself.
Sharp and Dangerous Virtues deals with ordinary people whose lives are disrupted by big and small events, many of which they'd never imagined. Its literal landscape is the intersection between geopolitics and private lives. From Chad and Sharis, a married couple with two young boys trying to decide whether to flee Chad's hometown to Tuuro, a black church custodian who finds and tenderly buries a young boy, only to learn that the child is the slain grandson of General Nenonene, the Alliance commander, Moody's novel is peppered with fascinating characters trying to make a life in troubling times.
The Gridian society, at its inception removed by force from the American mainstream, is insular, suspicious, tightly controlled and manipulative, but the Grid itself—where people eat communally and live in villages built to resemble farm towns of the 1950's—is conceptually and physically beautiful, a place that can be, to lonely outsiders like Tuuro, intensely seductive.
We asked Sun why people are so interested in stories of an America that's lost power, economic vibrancy and territorial integrity. She responds:
As to why books set after the decline of America being so popular (ie OUR AMERICAN KING by David Lozell Martin, DAY BY DAY ARMAGEDDON by J.L. Bourne, ONE SECOND AFTER by William Forstchen), I really don't have a concrete formula, but can offer my own ideas on why readers are so eager for them now. I think that the recession and stark realization that the status of American economy and our complex economic and political relationships with the global community has reached a point where many errors in the past that haven't been addressed to the attention they may have needed, thus have perhaps created an underlying fear of the uncertain future. Reports on detrimental industries, like rapidly diminishing marine populations and the consequences of our use of plastics and fuel-inefficient lifestyles on our biosphere, have been more prevalent in recent times, and I think that it seems only natural to think about the consequences these things have on our day-to-day lives.
Top image: Nedonna Beach, via MuffinHQ.