The Resisters, by Gish Jen
Let’s see: near future dystopia brought about by climate change and institutional absolutism? Okay. Pushback against injustice through both established channels and clandestine grassroots activism? Sure. Characters that feel real – like, could be your neighbor real; like, could be you real? It’s getting intriguing. And BASEBALL? Heck, yeah!
The Resisters is told through the eyes of Grant, a “coppertoned” (as opposed to “angelfair”) former teacher (an occupation that has been discontinued, rendering him Unretrainable), married to Eleanor, a spitfire legal activist who is Asian (“spy-eyed”). The couple is Surplus, not Netted, but are lucky enough to live on inherited land which grants them an actual AutoHouse with an actual garden rather than the AutoHouseboats that most of the Surplus population have been regulated to. They also are doting parents to Gwen, who at the start of the book is a newborn. Gwen is an only child, due to the One Chance Policy, limiting Surplus folks to one pregnancy per couple.
Gwen also is the Girl with the Golden Arm. At a very early age she exhibits an uncanny talent for throwing objects at a target with great accuracy, and she revels in that ability. In time, this leads her parents to establish an Underground Baseball League, not just for Gwen but for any other interested Surplus kid. The league has to be underground, as practices and games cannot not be held on Surplus fields where suspected emanations lead to kids becoming “enfeebled” after playing on them – a charge that Eleanor and her team are taking to court. But gathering in unsanctioned spaces is considered Unlawful Assembly, and Surplus already on the Enforcer’s radar or otherwise hacked could be Cast Off if found to be in violation. Still, where there’s a will, there’s a way. And along that way, a phenom is born.
By focusing on Grant, Eleanor and Gwen, Gish Jen is able to spin a tale is set in a future that would be quite unsettling were it not for the matter of fact way it is shared. Still, matter of fact does not mean accepted; the ways that this future society is able to circumvent, skirt, camouflage and rationalize authority – and the fear that accompanies that underlying defiance when mistakes are made and plans go awry – are both affirming and quite unsettling. Still, in The Resisters, public conflicts go toe to toe (and sometimes hand in hand) with personal triumphs and tragedies, keeping the story grounded and precious. No matter how controlled, life remains occasionally messy and often unpredictable – just like the game of baseball itself. In fact, that is a big part of the allure, of both the game and the novel alike.
As Gwen matures, the stakes for her, in baseball and in life, ratchet up. She has to decide if she will take advantage of the opportunities that her talent allows her, or if she will stay grounded in the environment in which she was raised. When threats begin to appear intwined in those opportunities, the odds definitely feel stacked against her. What do you do when the dreams you’ve spent your entire life chasing no longer shine?
It’s a question we all struggle with, and one which Gish Jen handles wonderfully in The Resisters. Even if you aren’t a baseball fan, this book should satisfy. But if you are (forgive me, but I’ve gotta say it) – this book is definitely a home run.