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A woman’s place – ‘Blue Ticket’

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Imagine a world in which your future was determined for you at an early age, a world in which your path was plotted by a lottery ruled by a machine.

That’s the world of Sophie Mackintosh’s new book “Blue Ticket” (Doubleday, $26.95). This dystopian vision from the author of 2018’s acclaimed “The Water Cure” is a bleak and unrelenting glimpse at a world in which reproductive agency is disallowed. This is a place where a woman’s possibilities for motherhood are determined at the time of their first menstruation – and there is no appeal.

It’s a provocative and challenging book, one that offers a particular perspective of the slippery slope that is institutional control of bodily autonomy. It is tense and thrilling, combining in-depth character study with just the right amount of background. And while the setting is a speculative future, the woman on the run narrative is one that transcends its genre framework.

In an indeterminate future, the life paths of all women are determined via an opaque lottery process. At the time of her first period, a woman is expected to report to the nearest station so that she may learn what sort of life she is to have. A white ticket means a life of marriage and children. A blue ticket means a life of career aspirations and individual freedoms. Wife and mother or career woman – the choice is made for you … and all decisions are final.

When Calla’s time came for the lottery, she got a blue ticket. And in the years that immediately followed, she embraced the perceived freedoms that came with that ticket. She worked at her job and partied hard after hours, living the life that was chosen for her.

However, feelings begin to stir within her. Feelings that can only be called maternal. Unfamiliar urges, a desire to become to mother – it all comes bubbling up. All of those around her – her fellow blue tickets, her current gentleman friend, her government-assigned doctor – would view her feelings as unsavory, even if they weren’t illegal.

And then she gets pregnant.

Calla must go on the run, racing toward a supposed safe zone that may or may not actually exist. And along the way, she’s forced to rely on what her blue ticket life has taught her about the world, even as her utter ignorance regarding her burgeoning pregnancy leaves her vulnerable. It’s a hard and dangerous journey, one she can’t hope to complete on her own – but who (if anyone) can she trust? And just what is she willing to do to protect herself and her unborn child?

You might be tempted to view “Blue Ticket” through the nigh-ubiquitous lens of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” – and make no mistake, there are definitely similarities in both substance and style – but the world that Mackintosh has created is very much its own thing. It’s a far more secular book, largely devoid of overt religious overtones and instead extrapolating out an ostensibly just bureaucratic system driven by a sterile misogyny.

Often, speculative fiction has a tendency to overexplain. There’s an understandable temptation toward info-dump exposition, but most of the time, it just serves as unnecessary handholding that pulls the reader away from the narrative. Mackintosh displays little interest in that sort of shepherding, opting instead to focus on the journey; we learn everything we need to know about this world through the eyes of the characters as they engage with it – the author is deliberate in making sure we get some understanding of what it means to feel you’re on the wrong side from BOTH sides. A little ambiguity never hurt anyone, and the truth is that it’s more fun when we get to fill in some of the margins with our own imaginations.

Mackintosh is also a propulsive storyteller. It’s easy to mine tension from a chase or a confrontation, but she turns routine doctor visits and phone calls into taut nail-biters. And she’s created someone fascinating in Calla; so much of the book’s power comes from our look inside her head as she struggles with the conflicts and consequences of her choice.

“Blue Ticket” is a thoughtful adventure, a voyage of principle and pathos. It has big thematic ideas, but wraps them in a complicated and thrilling narrative – an engaging combination. The most interesting speculative fiction is the kind that has something meaningful to say – and this book certainly qualifies.

Last modified on Tuesday, 21 July 2020 13:37

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