March 26 would've been Opening Day 2020 but for The Virus. And while I've found a routine that is somewhat satisfying considering the circumstances of quarantine, the incongruity of beautiful, crisp spring days without the solid *thwack* of a baseball bat is harrowing to my baseball-loving soul. Thank the heavens for The Resisters by Gish Jen.
Writer Ann Patchett blurbs that Jen's novel is "A stone-cold masterpiece," and it truly is. In a dystopian future crafted "because we always have a choice," AutoAmerica separates the Netted from the Surplus in an ever-stable capitalist society bent on supply and demand, production and consumption. The Surplus, those deemed Unretrainble or Unnecessary, live on houseboats in FlotsamTowns as the waters have started to creep inland. Their lives are constantly monitored for their consumption levels, and nothing goes unheard. Aunt Nettie, as the Surplus call AutoNet, is always listening.
In the mix of Surplus are resisters like Eleanor Cannon-Chastanet, her husband Grant, and their daughter, the golden-armed pitcher Gwen. From her youth Gwen has loved throwing - first stuffed animals from her crib, then the small balls her father finds, and finally as pitcher for her team, the Lookouts, one of twelve in an Underground League. But bots, drones, and those with a watchful eye don't miss fake-out attempts, and Gwen is "given the choice" to join Net U's team or face the consequences. AutoAmerica has just reinstated baseball as an Official National Pastime, and Gwen's pitching prowess looks like the best chance the US of A has for winning against ChinRussia in the Olympics.
Jen finds a perfect pace in the telling of her story, and the stunning catches, the "swing-for-the-fences" glee of an afternoon around the horn, and blissful camaraderie of teams playing in the fading light of the day don't go unnoticed. Gwen grows into a "rock" that is unmovable, even when the things and the people most important to her begin to wither (physically and mentally).
If you're missing baseball, take an afternoon or two to read The Resisters. It might not feed the need you have to see a team go three-up, three-down in a single inning, but it will hit all of the notes that make baseball so utterly enjoyable: characters that inspire, circumstances that seem unwinnable, and a final chapter that sets you on your feet, cheering for the final outcome.
— Shelly Walston
February 2020 Indie Next List
“I finished The Resisters in a day. I don’t know how a book can be so devastating yet so miraculously wonderful at the same time. I was completely captivated by the family whose story Jen tells. The world she creates — set in near-future AutoAmerica — is so believable an outcome of what we see around us today that it feels as much prescient as imagined. A sort of cautionary tale, TheResisters is not only a book to love, it’s a book that’s important. I’m in awe.”
— Carole Horne, Harvard Book Store, Cambridge, MA
The time: not so long from now. The place: AutoAmerica, a country surveilled by one “Aunt Nettie,” a Big Brother that is part artificial intelligence, part internet, and oddly human—even funny. The people: divided. The “angelfair” Netted have jobs and, what with the country half under water, literally occupy the high ground. The Surplus live on swampland if they’re lucky, on water if they’re not.
The story: To a Surplus couple—he once a professor, she still a lawyer—is born a girl, Gwen, with a golden arm. Her teens find her happily playing in an underground baseball league, but when AutoAmerica faces ChinRussia in the Olympics, Gwen finds herself in dangerous territory, playing ball with the Netted even as her mother battles this apartheid-like society in court. Provocative, moving, and yet paradoxically buoyant, The Resisters is the story of one family struggling to maintain their humanity in circumstances that threaten their every value.
About the Author
GISH JEN is the author of four previous novels, a story collection, and two works of nonfiction. Her honors include the Lannan Literary Award for fiction and the Mildred and Harold Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She delivered the William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in American Studies at Harvard University. She teaches from time to time in China and otherwise lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Praise for The Resisters
“The Resisters is palpably loving, smart, funny and desperately unsettling. The novel should be required reading for the country, both as a cautionary tale and because it is a stone-cold masterpiece. This is Gish Jen’s moment. She has pitched a perfect game.” —Ann Patchett, author of The Dutch House
“An absolute joy . . . I finished The Resisters with a tear in my eye and a smile on my face. Who could ask for a better combo? Gish Jen has written a one-of-a-kind book with great characters—especially Eleanor, who is the heart of the story—and a warm heart. Remind Ms. Jen that the great Ernie Banks said, ‘Hey, guys, let’s play two!’ Which is my way of saying I wouldn’t mind a sequel. Probably won’t happen, but a guy can hope. P.S. This lady knows her baseball.” —Stephen King, author of The Institute
“The magic of Gish Jen’s latest novel is that, amid a dark and cautionary tale, there’s a story also filled with electricity and humor—and baseball . . . Written in Jen’s clear, assured style and delivered from Grant’s slyly ironic perspective, The Resisters will captivate readers. Rippling with action, suspense and lovingly detailed baseball play-by-plays, there’s a sense throughout the book of both celebration and danger . . . This novel’s great gift to readers is its rich and multifaceted characters. Through them, we learn both the cost and the necessity of standing up and speaking out.” —Diana Abu-Jaber, The Washington Post
“Inspired . . . Hits close to the bone . . . The power of The Resisters derives from Jen’s inventive elaboration on how the change happened; how Americans gratefully handed over their autonomy to a big combo of machines, AI and the omnipotent Internet . . . Its appeal rests on its ingenuity, which is unflagging, [and on Jen’s] characteristic generosity and restrained optimism.” —Maureen Corrigan, NPR.org
“A dystopia so chillingly plausible that an entire review could be spent simply describing its components. To do that, however, would scant the provocative ideas that underpin her gripping tale of a family confronting the digitally empowered authoritarian state . . . Over the course of three decades, Jen’s social and psychological observations have only sharpened, while her marvelous humor has darkened . . . Alert as always to the demands of storytelling and character development, she crafts a suspenseful, deftly plotted narrative” —Wendy Smith, The Boston Globe
“Intricately imagined . . . The Resisters is a book that grows directly out of the soil of our current political moment, and much of the book’s unsettling pleasure lies in Jen’s ingenious extrapolation (or, in some cases, redescription) of contemporary problems. [She] has a gifted ear for the manipulative languages of tech, marketing and government.” —Karen Thompson Walker, The New York Times Book Review
“Compelling . . . A face-paced novel with exciting, poetic writing . . . Stands with the best of dystopian literature.” —George Longenecker, Rain Taxi Review
“Readers weary of grim prognostications will appreciate Jen’s exuberant invention as she helps us consider a future we don’t want, how to avoid it, and the vitality of alternatives. At every turn, Gwen and company create their own lives as much as possible, choosing DIY over the drugged seductions of the digitized state. Descriptions of how they grow their own food, deliciously, and knit their own garments and blankets, gloriously, add color and texture to a world where the agency of real humans can’t always be predicted or controlled.” —Valerie Schloredt, Yes! Magazine
“The Resisters is wonderfully inventive and poignant; a smart warning about at a possible future that could come before we know it.” —Annette Gordon-Reed, author of “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs”: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination
“A rabble-rousing tale with an ominous edge . . . The winning, suspenseful heart of the book is Gwen’s resourceful action on the [baseball] field. Jen’s jauntily sinister AutoAmerican argot is a continual pleasure as well. Best of all is her take on why even the ultimate surveillance society can’t quite muffle the human spirit.” —Michael Upchurch, The Seattle Times
“Triumphantly original . . . Don’t dare call this fantasy or science fiction. This is a world all too terrifying, dangerous and real . . . A ‘1984’ for our times.” —Dan Cryer, Newsday
“From its first page, Jen’s dystopian novel crackles with energy. Set in the near future, the story takes place in the new AutoAmerica, where the Netted live in luxury, while the Surplus struggle to earn their comforts. Unsettling yet light, funny yet meaningful, this book should keep you reading, then talking for months.” —Bethanne Patrick, The Washington Post
“An entertaining ride in a new yet familiar world . . . Jen world-builds effortlessly . . . Newly coined words become part of your own parlance within pages . . . Empowering.” —Abby Manzella, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Jen writes electric, entertaining sentences. I can hear the author having fun throughout the book . . . In sport, Jen finds a metaphor for what it is to be human.” —Rumaan Alam, Bookforum
“[Gish Jen] has long had a feel for sweeping, subversive explorations of American life . . . As Jen reveals how America became AutoAmerica, one seemingly tiny but cumulatively fatal development at a time, she finds in baseball a compelling metaphor for a country that will always have something to prove.” —David Canfield, Entertainment Weekly
“Jen masterfully builds her dystopian world, depicting how easily such a change can creep over a populace too ready to trade liberty for convenience . . . At heart, a story about love, family, and the core values of freedom and independence.” —Ed Tarkington, Nashville Scene
“In this astutely realized and unnervingly possible depiction of a near-future world, Jen masterfully entwines shrewd mischief, knowing compassion, and profound social critique in a suspenseful tale encompassing baseball ardor, family love, newly insidious forms of racism and tyranny, and a wily and righteous resistance movement that declares ‘RIGHT MAKES RIGHT.’” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
“Subtle dystopian fiction . . . beautifully crafted and slyly unsettling . . . The juxtaposition of America’s pastime and the AI-enabled surveillance state Jen presents here is brilliant.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“[A] shrewd and provocative near-future novel . . . [Jen’s] intelligence and control shine through in a chilling portrait of the casual acceptance of totalitarianism.” —Publishers Weekly
“Can there be a dystopian novel of lightness, delicacy and charm? In which baseball, our subtle, determined summer game, is the means of resistance against the dehumanizing overlords? In which a girl who pitches like Satchel Paige is the blue-haired hero? Gish Jen says, Yes! And she is right! Where there is baseball, there is hope. And beautiful prose, too.” —Cathleen Schine, author of The Grammarians
“Inventive, funny, and tender, The Resisters is about family, baseball, and the future—but more than anything, it is about freedom, and it is about us—here, now.” —Allegra Goodman, author of The Chalk Artist
“Brilliant . . . A heartbreaking novel with the sensitivity, emotional range, and prophetic power of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale.” —Jean Kwok, author of Searching for Sylvie Lee
“I LOVE this novel as much as I fear the future Gish Jen has conjured in it. In this anything but brave new world, baseball is what survives and reminds us of our humanity, and a girl’s golden arm forms the kernel of resistance. What an enchanting conceit! Gish Jen has hit a grand slam.” —Jane Leavy, author of The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World he Created