Though gifted at baseball, young Gwen is part of the "Surplus," a mass of disenfranchised people living on the edges of a future society in AutoAmerica—an America that has embraced authoritarian automation. Gwen grows up playing baseball in secret, but when her talent is discovered, she is recruited by Net U, the university for the privileged. She reluctantly agrees to attend and has her moral and personal resolve severely tested.
The magic of Gish Jen’s latest novel, The Resisters, is that, amid a dark and cautionary tale, there’s a story also filled with electricity and humor ... These characters wrestle with conundrums that will feel urgent to many readers, such as how to teach children to be fearless yet not reckless, to be responsible yet independent, to stand up for what’s right without becoming imprisoned or imperiled along the way ... Written in Jen’s clear, assured style and delivered from Grant’s slyly ironic perspective, The Resisters will captivate readers. Rippling with action, suspense and lovingly detailed baseball play-by-plays, there’s a sense throughout the book of both celebration and danger. There are a few plot point workarounds to maintain Grant’s first-person perspective—including an overly convenient listening device. But the story retains its intimacy and human generosity, even as it’s told against a backdrop of dreadful things to come. This novel’s great gift to readers is its rich and multifaceted characters.
This is a dark, frightening and triumphantly original work, a 1984 for our time. It’s the author’s brilliant decision to pit the delights of the All-American pastime, baseball, as antidote to the rigors of the surveillance state. Pleasure versus pain, leisure versus labor, freedom versus regimentation ... perfectly nimble and precise, with just a dollop of humor ... Jen’s terse sentences and short scenes create an irresistible forward momentum. Her dialogue veers from witty (the family) to eerie (the robotic watchers and a few robotic humans) to shamefully naive (Net U. students) By contrast, she makes the Cannon-Chastenets into believable, fully rounded characters. And genuine heroes ... Don’t dare call this fantasy or science fiction. This is a world all too terrifying, dangerous and real.
Gish Jen’s fifth novel imagines a dystopia so chillingly plausible ... [a] gripping tale of a family confronting the digitally empowered authoritarian state ... Jen doesn’t over-explain individual elements of her richly textured dystopia; she assumes we can deduce the meanings of her bitingly witty neologisms ... Over the course of three decades, Jen’s social and psychological observations have only sharpened, while her marvelous humor has darkened ... amusing but vaguely menacing, frequently with a sting to follow ... Jen’s closing pages invite optimism about the prospects for change[.]