Friday, February 6, 2015

Book Review: The Only Ones

Read 1/28/15 - 2/2/15
4 Stars - Strongly recommended to fans of unique voices, dystopian pandy's, and unexpected motherhood
Pages: 354
Publisher: Two Dollar Radio
Releases: March 2015

In the near future, wave after wave of infections and viruses have greatly reduced the world's population. Many of those who survive are rendered incapable of having children on their own and require the services of "Donors" and "Hosts" -  women who allow their eggs to be harvested or agree to become surrogate mothers for money. 

Inez, our narrator, is one such woman. Immune to infection, Inez understands her status as a "hardy" makes her a hot commodity and when we are first introduced to her, she's busy selling her blood, eggs, and teeth on the streets of New York to make ends meet. She's amazingly naive and unfazed by danger, treating her body as nothing more than a borrowed shell to loan out to strangers for payment. Her "let's see what happens" attitude eventually finds her in the company of a guy named Rauden. He runs a farm - not an "old MacDonald had a" farm, but one that specializes in experimental "product" trafficking. The baby-making-stuffs. Before she can fully grasp what's happening, Inez participates in a battery of experimental tests and agrees to donate her eggs and skin samples to a wealthy, grieving "client" who is desperate to replace her recently deceased children. 

After multiple failed attempts to genetically engineer a baby for hosting purposes, Rauden and his team finally break new ground. They successfully produce the world's first batch of clones from Inez's genetic material. During the tank-gestation period, they lose all but one baby and at the very last minute, the client backs out, leaving a reluctant Inez in charge of the infant she helped to create. 

Now forced to forage for two, and on the run from horseback-riding religious vigilantes, Inez must protect the secret of the farm and the truth about her daughter Ani at all costs. 

God, did I get lost in Carola Dibbell's vision of dystopian New York City. Coupons replace cash; swipes and spit tests replace photo ID's; phone calls and messages are received on Boards (which are both personal devices and outdoor, ATM-like machines); and public transportation consists of bubble cars, unreliable wind-powered trams and boats, and hovering magnetized trains. Giant domes encapsulate wealthy neighborhoods as a feeble attempt to protect against the threat of death that lives in every breath. It's a stark and gritty world where babies are conceived in basement laboratories and sold as "viables" in the global underground market.  

The Only Ones was one of many post-pandemic novels I was itching to get my hands on this year. It hinges itself on more than just surviving the unsurvivable. It tackles more than just rebuilding society. Dibbell's novel sticks its hands into the evolutionary food chain and calls into question the roles of man and god. 

It's a story about understanding your worth and overcoming your "heritage". It's about embracing motherhood, even if you don't know what that is, and the near-obsessive desire to give your children a better childhood than you had.  

I loved the language of the book. And Carola eases us into it so smoothly, it's like we've been talking her lingo all along.

Inez's apparent ignorance regarding the world around her is both refreshing and grating. With her, what you see is what you get. She is incredibly human, unrepentantly stubborn, and proud of her faults. Yet as her daughter begins to develop her own personality, full of flaws, Inez's certainty in things starts to falter. She worries and fears that Ani is damaged, that these might be signs of anomaly, defects due to Ani's method of creation. 

The way Inez reacted to Ani throughout the novel was simultaneously humorous and maddening. The initial pride she took in keeping her alive as a baby was sweet. "Does she breathe? She does breathe. Still alive." The joy she took in the odd things Ani did as a baby was adorable. "The sofa cover got loose ... she took a big bite of the foam! With the big bite in her mouth she hopped one two three to the mirror and spit out the foam. Man! What was she thinking?" But her ever-growing confusion over Ani's wide range of emotions and her obsession over the influence her "environmental factors" might have on Ani became exasperating in that "new mother who always has to tell you about what their kid is doing and saying every single second of the day in very explicit detail" way.  

Though ultimately, all of that aside, the change we witness in Inez over the years, from naive reckless young woman to determined and protective mother, the selfless decisions she makes, and the things she is prepared to do as Ani learned how to become her own woman left me breathless more often than I'd like to admit. 

The Only Ones is not a novel you read. It's a novel you experience. 


  1. This one sounds really good! I love a good dystopia.

  2. Based on your review, this book sounds like a must-read! Exciting! The other day on NPR I heard Kelly Link talking about creating worlds with which the reader might not be familiar, and there are two ways to approach it: either the author needs to explain the world, or she needs to pretend like the reader just got there and things will become clear as the reader moves through the story. Which method did this novel use? Explanation or you-get-used-to-it?

    1. Definitely a you-get-used-to-it method. Just it really sucks you right in...

    2. Definitely a you-get-used-to-it method. Just it really sucks you right in...