In a dystopian alternate 1984, the spectre of genetic mutation has put the future of human society in jeopardy. Children who are identified as afflicted by physical and mental abnormalities are isolated from their families and their healthy peers and condemned to a life of unfulfilling hard labour. Yet this generation of ‘monsters’ is also born with powerful abilities that normal humans lack. The ruthlessly self-serving authorities want to identify the most capable and talented from amongst this group of marginalised, second-class youngsters and put their unique skill sets to other uses in the realms of espionage and warfare.
Setting the story in the southern states of the US, during the Reagan presidency, author DiLouie paints a picture of eugenic determinism in action that is as plausible as it is brutal. This is a society defined by ‘redneck’ culture, where Christian fundamentalism holds sway, and liberal ideas are viewed with intense suspicion. Children born with deformities are housed in residential schools (which are little more than a blend of prison and workhouse), afforded only the most basic of education and put to work on local farms. Only a few of the teachers show compassion or empathy towards their charges, while any act of defiance sends the perpetrator to endure the unseen horrors waiting for them in the discipline room.
DiLouie explores the rising tensions that threaten to upset the stability of this cruel and unjust world from many different perspectives, turning his attention to those who view these ‘freaks’ with contempt; those wanting to champion their right to a decent life; and those in local law enforcement trying to maintain what is a fragile peace. Amidst the ranks of these ‘different’ children, DiLouie presents the views of those content with their lot; those hopeful of a better, more comfortable, future for themselves; and those plotting a rebellion that could overthrow their cruel masters.
He also inhabits the heads of those in the federal state who want to weaponise the most ‘suitable’ of these youngsters (those who possess the skills of telekinesis, pyrokinesis, clairvoyance and clairsentience), and of families who hide the fact that their offspring is not as normal as everyone else assumes.
DiLouie focuses on dialogue, and on the internal monologue of his characters, over third-person narrative or detailed descriptions. It’s an extremely effective style, allowing him to focus on the emotional and psychological fallout of a series of personal calamities, frustrated ambitions and chilling crimes that reverberate throughout the isolated community.
When tensions inevitably explode, One of Us offers a potent and powerful vision of the volatile mix of retribution, justice, cruelty and liberation that is unleashed. DiLouie is an emotionally literate writer, able to see the moral complexities of the revolution he sets in motion, and its likely destination. The allegories and metaphors that can be found in the pages of this heartfelt novel speak for themselves. It’s possible to read One of Us as a treatise on the corrosive consequences of intolerance, social exclusion and inequality. But it’s no less rewarding to treat DiLouie’s novel as a captivating, if sometimes harrowing, foray into a vividly evoked fictional world which reveals an unsustainable society that is doomed by its own contradictions.
ONE OF US / AUTHOR: CRAIG DILOUIE / PUBLISHER: ORBIT / RELEASE DATE: JULY 19TH