cover image They


Kay Dick. McNally Editions, $18 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-946022-28-8

Harsh punishments await anyone bucking society’s norms in this eerie, atmospheric story from English writer Dick (1915–2001) first published in 1977 (before The Two Faces of Robert Just, as Jeremy Scott). The unnamed, ungendered narrator is a writer living on the English coast who spends their time visiting other writers and artists. Meanwhile, a group known only as “they” are bent on destroying art and literature and on punishing artists. The anonymous band lurks in the countryside, pilfering books and artworks, and punishing those who refuse to give up their creative enterprises. When a writer refuses to burn her manuscript, the group severely burns her writing hand. But the attacks are also haphazard and often leave people unscathed, creating uncertainty as artists continue about their business. The narrator, meanwhile, rejects encouragement to give up living alone (“They fear solitary living, therefore envy it,” a friend says), even as “they” become more aggressive. The faceless nature of the antagonists—whose philosophy, goals, and power structures are unspoken—runs counter to other mid-century dystopian tales and leaves space for interpretation. In place of plot, Dick creates a pervasive sense of dread for those who give their lives to art. This unsettling dreamlike endeavor is a worthy rediscovery. Agent: Becky Brown, Curtis Brown Group. (Feb.)