Interesting and Unique Dystopian Tale
I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself by Marisa Crane is a very good speculative fiction debut that is a mix of 1984 and The Scarlett Letter with embedded political commentary about the surveillance state, censorship, and surviving under a right-wing regime. The book is very queer, character-driven, and a highly addictive read.
The story takes place in a dystopian United States where prisons have been abolished and wrongdoers are given additional shadows for every perceived crime they commit. There is rampant unfairness in who gets targeted for discipline. The punished are then ostracized in their communities and are dubbed “Shadesters”.
Kris, the main character, is a Shadester whose wife has just died in childbirth and she now has to learn how to survive as a single mother to a newborn. The story is written in first person and we see Kris sharing her daily activities and memories thru monologues to her dead wife.
The narrative has a short vignette writing style which I thought suited the themes of the story. It’s heavily focused on the character with slight nods to the plot. The author Marisa Crane is a poet and essayist and that is reflected in their prose.
We watch as Kris navigates her unjust environment while trying to process her grief, guilt, and shame. She deals with the loneliness of losing a partner, the responsibilities of a single parent, and the prejudices of the world.
The description may sound like the story is overly dark, but the addition of the child introduces a lot of light to the mix. While the conditions seem bleak, there is enough humor sprinkled in so that it is not unbearably sad. “The kid” also adds a very hopeful element to the chaos. Hope and healing play a key part in the story. Kris at one point ponders “If you researched the pathway to change, you’d notice the graph looks eerily similar to the pathway of grief. Both more or less begin with denial and end with acceptance.”
I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself by Marisa Crane is a well-written debut with a unique writing style that I would highly recommend to folks who enjoy dystopian tales with sharp commentary about resistance in an authoritarian and surveillance state, queer families, processing grief, and healing.