cover image Flet


Joyelle McSweeney, . . Fence, $15 (137pp) ISBN 978-1-934200-07-0

Poet McSweeney (The Commandrine and Other Poems) enters the realm of speculative fiction with this debut novel, with spotty success. Years after “E-Day”—a bioterrorist version of 9/11, aimed at what survivors now remember as “Old Capitol”—a new version of the U.S. has reconstituted itself along familiar near-future lines: fake food, curtailed travel and Internet, government-controlled TV. The heroine, Flet, is a top aide to Sub-Secretary Lonnie Otis, a mid-level bureaucrat and icy Hillary Clinton type. Flet cherishes a few trinkets left behind by the decontaminators, junky fossils of a life before everything became dirty, and finds diversion with Mick, a reality TV “filetape” editor contracted to the government’s Education Media. In the days leading up to a memorial “Re-Enactment,” Flet comes to believe that the government has distorted the real events of the emergency, and that Otis is an agent of the coverup. The Devil Wears Prada elements of the setup make for some workplace sparks, and the 9/11 parallels are nicely turned. McSweeney’s descriptive writing can be precise and energetic, and the dialogue of her young people amusing and real. But the narrative, chopped into short, titled chapters, is too often freighted with impressionistic passages that defy understanding. (Dec.)