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The Resisters


The Resisters

At the risk of being deemed flippant, THE RESISTERS is a blend of two iconic works of literature: George Orwell’s 1984 and W. P. Kinsella’s SHOELESS JOE. Gish Jen’s novel is set in a future “AutoAmerica,” where global warming has created a nation with land mass substantially underwater, and the population is physically divided by race and economic status. The “haves” and the “have-nots” of society are now known as the “Netted” and the “Surplus.” The former experience a life with jobs, quality comforts and communities on dry land. The latter live on houseboats in towns located on water, and their lives are controlled by Autonet, which some refer to as “Aunt Nettie.”

In the world of THE RESISTERS, citizens find their lives controlled by AutoHouse, DroneDeliverers, FridgeStockers, KidTrackers, RoboSitters, ElderHelpers and countless other devices that monitor relationships and careers. Machines perform a multitude of functions formerly undertaken by humans, including medicine, education and the law. The nations of the world, perhaps due to loss of land mass, have undergone consolidation and include West Africa, Greater Cuba, ChinRussia, the SaudiSphere, AustraliaZealand and the European Union. Borders are no longer open, and AutoAmerica has sent immigrants away under a policy identified as Ship’EmBack.

"The baseball scenes in THE RESISTERS are a joy for readers who are fans of the sport, as well as for those with only a passing interest in it."

The story is told through the words of an unnamed narrator, a former teacher now consigned to the Surplus. His wife is Eleanor, an attorney who often litigates against the government. It is interesting that, in a future society eliminating a substantial number of traditional jobs, lawyers have not yet been replaced by machines. Please feel free to insert your own witty or cynical observation regarding lawyers in a future society. The couple has a daughter, Gwen, who early in her childhood exhibits the extraordinary ability to throw balls; she is a natural-born pitcher. As Gwen matures, her parents organize an underground baseball league for similarly talented children of Surplus families.

As the J.D. Salinger character observes in SHOELESS JOE, “I don't have to tell you that the one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has been erased like a blackboard, only to be rebuilt and then erased again. But baseball has marked time while America has rolled by like a procession of steamrollers.”

The baseball scenes in THE RESISTERS are a joy for readers who are fans of the sport, as well as for those with only a passing interest in it. Not only does Jen offer a vivid description of baseball action, she also incorporates some humor and commentary on some of its foibles. Many of the players here have recognizable names: pitcher Pietro Martinez, outfielder Steve Wonder, and my favorite, catcher Beetle Samsa. Homage is made to one of baseball’s greatest scandals, the steroid era, as Jen discusses the now-sanctioned use of GenetImprovement, which allows athletes to medically enhance their physical abilities.

Gwen is approached to attend Net U, where the baseball players are being groomed to participate in the upcoming Olympics. While she is reluctant to move into a world where she is deemed a second-class citizen, baseball offers her an opportunity to cross over into the world of the Netted. Throughout history, sports has been a method by which the less fortunate find money and status, providing a path to a better life.

As with any sports-themed novel, the conclusion of THE RESISTERS involves a big game: the seventh game of the Olympic finals. Reading this dystopian work is somewhat painful. In contemporary America, where rising oceans are recapturing land masses and children are living in cages, the world described by Gish Jen is difficult to recognize as fiction. But where there is baseball, there is hope. Spring training is now underway, and a new season kicks off in March. In that world, optimism and the promise of a fresh start abound. Play ball!

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on February 21, 2020

The Resisters
by Gish Jen

  • Publication Date: January 12, 2021
  • Genres: Dystopian, Fiction, Humor
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 0525657223
  • ISBN-13: 9780525657224