Moira Crone’s The Not Yet is disturbing, entrancing, and unforgettable. Set in the 22nd century in a barely recognizable New Orleans–known in the complex and fascinating dystopian geography of the novel as the New Orleans Islands–The Not Yet explores our obsession with youth and appearance against a backdrop of irreversible and frighteningly plausible climate change.
This is a world in which the all-powerful Heirs gain extreme longevity by making a terrible trade. Everything about their lives is orchestrated for pleasure and extravagance–down to their shells, the physical manifestations that cover their bodies and faces and have no correlation to the shriveling, aging bodies that are hidden from view. The Heirs live in a world of Cirque-du-Soleil like fancy, but, despite their prosperity, the price they pay is extreme. Utterly removed from the sensual pleasures that still thrive among the lower classes, the Nats and the Not-Yets, the Heirs survive on a bland diet of non-food, which they consider superior to the lowly, real food of the non-heirs.
In Crone’s richly imagined world, government has become more invasive, society more divided, with strict divisions among classes. The social order is so rigid that non-heirs are not allowed to touch the Heirs whom they serve. The orphan at the center of the novel, Malcolm de Lazarus, survives his childhood as an actor in the Sims, elaborate performances that allow Heirs to laugh at the absurdities of life before the scientific discoveries that made near-immortality possible. The story jogs back and forth between Malcolm’s childhood and his struggle as a 20-year-old man to survive and to claim his inheritance. He is a “Not Yet” because he has not yet become an heir, but is in line to achieve that enviable state.
The Not Yet is the most forceful depiction of global warming that I have ever seen. New Orleans is a series of islands which continue to sink, and yet the spirit of New Orleans is still alive in strange places that Malcolm discovers in a journey by boat among the islands. The entire country has been divided up into territories and protectorates, and there seems to be little communication among the various regions except at the highest levels of government.
The Not Yet shimmers with the extraordinarily descriptive prose and surprising turns of phrase that anyone familiar with Moira Crone’s work has come to expect from her. But it is far more than a unique, inimitable style that makes this novel so memorable. It feels prophetic and important. In one scene, Malcolm’s mentor sends him out to find ancient texts. As the novel progresses, she immerses herself in these texts–a blasphemous act–ultimately following her own path of enlightenment to explosive consequences. When I finished The Not Yet, I couldn’t help imagining someone coming across this novel hundreds of years from now; this future reader, like Malcolm, might marvel at the how much has changed, and how perilously we ignored the warning signs.
The book has inspired an intriguing set of images by artists around the globe, including Chris Boyce’s Sea of Ponchetrain, which references the other-worldy landscape that Crone paints so vividly in the novel.
This is part of a 10-part series on the best books of 2012. Check back for more books through December and January.
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