Book Review: The Resisters by Gish Jen

The Resisters by Gish Jen

Rating:  ★★★

The Resisters takes place in a world where most jobs have been eliminated due to automation, the world is flooded thanks to climate change, and America is run by a deranged AI people refer to as Aunt Nettie. We follow the lives of one Surplus family, through the eyes of the husband and father, Grant. (Surplus are those people that were deemed unretrainable when Automation took over, and therefore don’t work anymore, but are expected to consume via their Living Points, alotted to them via Aunt Nettie.) The daughter of this family, Gwen, has a golden arm. She can throw hard, fast, and with almost perfect accuracy. Eventually this leads the family to start up an illegal Surplus baseball league.

I was frustrated with this book on multiple levels. I suppose I’ll get my big complaint out of the way and tell you there are no chapters, only four parts, and we all know how much I love that…

But most importantly, I could not shake the feeling that this story was told from the wrong person’s POV. Grant is largely an observer in all these events that feel like they happen to his wife and daughter. And sure he’s a valid character, but I just don’t think he was the right character. The plot revolves around Gwen. We are told her story via GreetingGrams (basically letters) that are sent back and forth to her parents in one part and it frustrated me because I wanted to care about Gwen more than I did and couldn’t because of this distance created between her and the reader.

The worldbuilding is vast and detailed, and the author manages to comment on many relevant issues: racism, sexism, politics, climate change, privacy…. but again, Grant is largely unaffected by many of them, given his removal from much of the action. It just didn’t feel like effective commentary to me.  It’s Gwen that experiences what it’s like to be one of two female players on a high performance baseball team, Gwen that attends a university where she is the only person of color thanks to a process called “PermaDerming” (bleaching your skin, basically).

As far as plot and pacing go- this is a character driven book, and most of the action is saved for part four. Most of the characters are likable (except for one whose personality was all over the place).  Most of the book is slow and there were several times I wanted to DNF.  I did become more invested around the halfway mark, as Gwen’s story picks up, but a lot of it was just too slow for my taste.

Finally, the ending was really a disaster for me.  I think in America we expect stories about baseball to be uplifting, and while some of the games had the powerful feeling, the ending is ruined by some very dark events that take place and don’t really seem to fit the tone of the rest of the book.

Overall I had very mixed feelings.  If you are interested in the dystopian aspect, I recommend reading it with a buddy so you can pick it apart and bounce ideas off each other.  If you are interested in the baseball (I was not) then go ahead and give it a try.  You might enjoy this more.

The Resisters can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher for sending a review copy.

15 thoughts on “Book Review: The Resisters by Gish Jen

  1. This sounds very odd. Also add in the fact that Gish Jen is not known as a speculative fiction writer and maybe she was using some tried and true literary devices that just didn’t work. Even choosing the wrong narrator could be seen as trying to do something edgy in fiction, I guess? I did have my eye in this but I’ll probably pass. Awesome review, Sarah!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Those are great points. I’ve never read Gish Jen and am not even familiar with her other work- I just knew the world building sounded fun (and it was). But yeah I don’t think your missing anything by skipping this one.

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  2. One of my pet peeves is when the author picks what I feel is the wrong POV in a story. I really hate that. You can take an incredibly emotional, moving tale, but swap narrators and it becomes boring. Shame you didn’t connect to this one! It doesn’t sound like something I’ll be picking up (for many reasons) but I hope it finds its audience.

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    • I don’t recommend it. I don’t know why authors do it. I don’t know why editors allow it to happen. It makes me want to scream.

      Sorry. It’s like my number one thing- if there isn’t some purpose for it (a good example is King’s Dolores Claiborne- where the whole book is a confession to police, there’s a REASON there aren’t any chapters) then it needs to have chapters. Period. End of discussion.

      But yes- the blurb was what drew me in! Unfortunately it just wasn’t executed how I like.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Tammy made a good point about the author being more literary than speculative. I think she’s probably correct- maybe it would work for a contemporary/literary audience, but doesn’t work at all for a speculative fiction crowd.

      I don’t need the bells and whistles and the weird third party observer- tell the story where the actions at.

      You aren’t missing anything by skipping.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so let down over a baseball movie as in A League of their Own when Geena Davis’s character blows the big game so her sister can feel good about herself. I mean, really, how good can you feel when you won because someone let you.

    What made you decide NOT to DNF this book? Are you one of those Must Finish readers?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not anymore! I try not to DNF review Copies if I can help it though. Just because it was sent to me specifically for reviewing I feel like I owe it the chance to redeem itself. I did DNF one arc when it ventured into a territory I just wasn’t comfortable with.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Probably the right choice. I really can’t get over the story being told by Grant. I think it would have been a much more interesting story if it had been told by Gwen. Or maybe each part had been told from a different POV.

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  4. Pingback: Month in Review: February 2020 | Hamlets & Hyperspace

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