cover image Ripe: A Novel

Ripe: A Novel

Sarah Rose Etter. Scribner, $25 (288p) ISBN 978-1-66801-163-8

Etter follows The Book of X with an explosive narrative of a woman coming undone as the world burns. Cassie, 33, toils for a cultlike tech startup, commuting by train from her expensive San Francisco apartment to the Voyager office in Silicon Valley. She copes with long hours and impossible demands from her bullying boss, Sasha, by doing cocaine and drinking cold brew, and barely keeps her anxiety, isolation, and explosive anger at bay with meditation techniques. After a sexually satisfying but doomed affair with a polyamorous chef ends, she discovers she’s pregnant. The news headlines on her phone announce wildfires and a deadly virus, but even more menacing is the black hole that only she can see (“A dark heat emanates from its center. A metallic smell overtakes me, the scent of outer space,” she narrates while on the train). Whether the black hole is a metaphor, a science-fiction element, or a symptom of psychosis, it shrinks and expands depending on her circumstances and emotional state. Etter cranks up the tension in her portrayal of Cassie’s mind and of the workplace, as Cassie’s rage increases and she gets roped into an illegal hacking scheme to take down a competitor. A deliciously bitter irony pervades; after a man self-immolates in Cassie’s neighborhood, Sasha announces she’s off to Burning Man; and while Cassie worries about how she’ll afford an abortion, Sasha spends a fortune on freezing her eggs. A scathing look at corporate greed and its many dire consequences, this is deeply felt and cathartic. Agent: Kent Wolf, Neon Literary. (July)