Book Review: The Unit (Quietly Horrifying Future)

the-unit

The Unit is a second dystopian novel that addresses the notion of what constitutes usefulness in a society that has taken a “family values” stance and coupled that with an ageist concept. Men and women who reach a certain age and have not reproduced are considered less useful than those that have met those benchmarks and they are forced to leave mainstream society and enter a restricted “Unit” where they are slowly dismantled. Drugs and procedures are tested on them, and their body parts/organs are slowly harvested to benefit the outside, so-called “useful” citizens. It is known that they will remain in the Unit up until they make their “final donation” of an organ they cannot survive without. The notion of a person’s value being based on reproduction seems initially simplistic, yet the author weaves a complex moral tale about what might make a person “dispensable” versus valuable, and what role reproduction plays in that construct. The plot twist occurs when Dorrit not only falls in love with another dispensable resident in the Unit, but becomes pregnant. Ultimately, it is a novel about choice, about biological autonomy (or the lack thereof) and how much social systems control these things. If Dorrit escapes in order to keep her child, will she really be gaining freedom, or will she be simply committing herself and her child to being dispensable in a different way? If she gives up the baby, what statement is she making about her own value as a human being? Where The Testament of Jessie Lamb was clumsy and hampered by its own agenda, The Unit is a much more interesting and nuanced examination of social controls and constructs, how we view the elderly, and what sorts of unintended consequences can evolve from attitudes we currently take for granted. Three Stars.

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