By Ryan Monahan, Connections Intern
Find Me by Laura van den Berg
Farrar, Strauss & Giroux
Find Me, a first person account of America’s potential future, is Laura van den Berg’s first novel. After previously authoring two collections of stories including The Isle of Youth, van den Berg begins her first full-length tale describing a vision of America in the midst of fighting a terrifying, unstoppable pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of people have been afflicted—first by losing their memory, bit by bit, swiftly followed by a bodily rash of large silver sores, signaling the brain’s rapid atrophy and death. Bizarrely, some lucky people possess immunity—one such girl, Joy Jones, in pristine health, has not shown the slightest hint of catching the disease. She is special. And a hospital, quarantining and studying people immune to the disease, recognizes her unique immunity. Along with about 100 other patients, Joy signs a 10-month contract with the hospital, launching her into daily tedium and routine broken only by the occasional traumatic appearance of the sickness in the patients.
Before the hospital, Joy lived an equally pedantic, depressing life. Abandoned by her mother at birth and completely devoid of deep human connection in her mid-20s, Joy knew nothing but dullness and monotony as a grocer at Stop & Shop, all-too-frequently strung-out on cough syrup to pass the hours. Joy, so young, had her whole life ahead of her, but she was denying herself a future. Perhaps she entered the hospital to pursue change from her dead-end life and depression? Perhaps she saw a rare chance for a stable lifestyle in a near-post-apocalyptic America? Either way, she soon wearies of the endless examinations and orders from the masked hospital staff and longs for a life away from the institution.
Watching the news in the hospital one day, Joy imagines a brighter future when she sees a possible clue to her mother’s whereabouts. She becomes determined to leave the hospital and set out to find her mother, but her adventure is fraught with danger. Even escaping the hospital poses an enormous challenge with the freezing winter howling outside, but Joy faces an even greater challenge–her past. To envision a realistic future for herself and her estranged mother, Joy has to accept the person she is now and find hope to become the person she wants to be.
The reader is taken along with Joy as she undergoes a life-changing journey, and we learn of the most intimate corners of Joy’s mind as she transforms and develops her identity.
Laura van den Berg’s debut novel takes the reader right into the center of a disease-ravaged America, but, instead of despair, paints a picture of hope. One can only hope for more novels from van den Berg, for Find Me explores the deep, universal, humanness of memory, trauma, parenthood, and the search for truth and identity.