The pair’s strange, quick ascent to fame alternates with the timeline of a young married TV star in 2051. Marlow, married to Ellis, has been on-screen nearly her entire life, since her childhood misbehavior was “cured” through daily doses of a medication called Hysteryl. Marlow, Ellis and their families live in a mid-21st-century mediatopia named Constellation, where everyone is live on television all the time, except during bathroom visits and other brief stints of privacy. The government selects citizens to live in Constellation, and it’s considered an honor; most of the residents have millions of followers and can see how their every action affects the rise and fall of their popularity.
Constellation’s female residents are forced to have their eggs harvested at age 19. Once they’ve married a suitable mate — chosen with network approval — they can be approved to have a child, which involves a ceremony called “sowing” and some eerie Margaret Atwood-esque action featuring a floral arch, an expensive gown and all one’s family and friends in attendance.
But just as Marlow’s “sowing” day begins, she thinks about some unsettling information she’s received, information that involves her ailing father; It seems that many of the 30-somethings from 2015 and their fellow millennials have different levels of “fog” from spending too much time on digital devices. She decides to leave home and travel to New York City, a journey that requires subterfuge and serendipity. If there’s a little too much of the latter at times in both storylines, it’s all worth it for a cautionary tale about what happens when people are more concerned with how they appear than who they really are.
Readers will understand that the storylines tie together as soon as the name of Marlow’s mother is revealed. However, there’s so much more mystery to unravel, especially with all the talk about “the Spill,” a technological disaster that befalls this constantly connected culture. Though the full story is eventually told, an important question lingers long after the book is done: Who are the followers we should value — those who watch us or those who come after us?
Bethanne Patrick is the editor, most recently, of “The Books That Changed My Life: Reflections by 100 Authors, Actors, Musicians and Other Remarkable People.”
Graydon House. 384 pp. $26.99