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Living in Dystopia

The future gets a harsh reimagining in "Good House"



In the near future, envisioned by debut author Peyton Marshall, genetic profiling is employed to segregate the population into those prone toward crime and violence, and those who aren't. In this plausible—if distant—reality, the world has asked and answered the question, can we truly control the future? Although Marshall has coopted themes from the wildly popular young adult dystopian fiction genre, her first novel has a deeply intellectual and political bent that adult readers might compare to "The Handmaid's Tale" or "Fahrenheit 451."

"Good House" is the destination for boys whose biometric markers identify them as potential threats to society. They are raised in the care of the state in a near-prison system, governed by abuse and the vicious discipline that is supposed to correct the wards' baser instincts. Sent to the Good House at the age of three, protagonist James doesn't remember the name his parents gave him, isn't allowed to own material objects of any kind, and faces an indistinct future in a world from which he's been forcibly removed. When he meets Brittany during a Community Day home visit, a girl who seems desperate to break rules and tell lies, James begins to question the system that has ordered his entire life. After he steals one of Brittany's barrettes, a crime that will confirm society's deepest fears about James and other boys like him, he begins to discover the disturbing history behind Good House.

Marshall explains in the acknowledgements that her book is partly based on the 19th century Preston School of Industry—a reform school in Northern California infamous for its long history of student abuse. Before being closed down, Preston hosted such students as Merle Haggard, writer Neal Cassady, and actor Eddie Bunker—all respected outsiders in their fields. And because Marshall doesn't fall prey to the super-techy language of similar dystopian works, readers are encouraged to compare James' experience with those of contemporary inmates, no matter what their age.

"Good House" is half genre-bending page-turner, and half literary powerhouse. Marshall, who lives in Portland, is a graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop, and has published work in The New Yorker and Tin House—placing her firmly in the cadre of serious literary author. However, she's created in "Good House" a work that is both intellectually stimulating and entertaining, offering thrills and suspense without sacrificing a sophisticated literary voice that remains both assessable and impressive—and ultimately succeeds.

Peyton Marshall Reading

5 pm. Sat., Oct. 25

Sunriver Books and Music, Sunriver Village Building 25C

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