cover image The Divers’ Game

The Divers’ Game

Jesse Ball. Ecco, $26.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-06-267610-8

In his atmospheric, occasionally mesmerizing tale of haves and have-nots, Ball (Census) delivers a strident condemnation of inequality in an imagined nation. In the stilted exposition, a schoolteacher lectures his students about “the circumstances that led to the transformation of our society.” Facing an influx of refugees, the society’s leaders brand them, confine them to specified “quadrants,” and arm their privileged citizens with gases with which to incapacitate, confuse, sicken, or kill the new underclass (or “quads”). The measures are executed with a sense of “vibrant morality,” as the enforcers are secure in their conviction that “things done to those beneath are not properly violence.” The novel comprises a series of vignettes: a teacher brings one of his students to a moribund zoo whose creatures are all dead; a quad girl prepares for her ceremonial role as the queen of a carnivalesque procession; a group of children play the dangerous “divers’ game,” in which they swim through a treacherous underwater channel connecting two ponds; a woman plans to kill herself to atone for her complicity in the society’s brutal persecutions. Some episodes are gripping, while others are marred by philosophizing (“Do the places we inhabit confine us by their very nature?”). Still, the novel’s depiction of life in this dystopian world is eerie and suffused with symbolic weight. Agent: Jim Rutman, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Sept.)