Adriane knows that it’s risky to reveal that one thinks for one’s self, yet, as high-school valedictorian, she cannot play it safe and is promptly arrested for her inquisitive graduation speech. Deemed an Exiled Individual, which is slightly better than a Deleted Individual, she is sent to Zone 9 and shackled to a new identity and tyrannical rules ... While in this clever, brain-twisting, Poe-like fable she looks to the past and the future to dramatize the vulnerability of the psyche, the fragility of freedom, and the catastrophic consequences of repressing intelligence, independence, and creativity, what Oates illuminates is the present.
Oates’s eerie dystopian novel is set both in New Jersey circa 2039 and in Wisconsin in 1959. In 2039, 17-year-old Adriane Strohl, who narrates, is to be her graduating class’s valedictorian...After Adriane’s outspoken commencement speech, she’s arrested by Homeland Security for treason and ultimately cast out of modern society and teleported to 1959 Wisconsin ... Oates weaves a feeling of constant menace and paranoia throughout as Adriane struggles to remember her old life and adjust to her new one. The conclusion is surprising and ambiguous, leaving readers to question their own perception of events, making for a memorable novel.
The United States has become a repressive regime that’s run by oligarchs, ranks its citizenry by skin tone, and 'vaporizes' dissenters ... Oates dwells much, sometimes ponderously so, on B.F. Skinner’s then-popular concept of behaviorism, which slotted humans as dim machines lacking in free will. And Oates’ late style, thick with em dashes and exclamatory prose, flirts with melodrama. But forgivably so: Are we not living in emotionally demanding times? More shambling than dystopian classics by Orwell, Atwood, and Ishiguro but energized by a similar spirit of outrage.