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A dystopian sci-fi novel imagines a future New England crippled by pollution and under the control of ruthless corporate patriarchs.

In 2082, ongoing opportunistic development and runaway pollution have rendered the planet nearly uninhabitable. Lack of resources, coupled with an endless succession of natural disasters, including tornadoes, tsunamis, and wildfires left a crumbling infrastructure and the rise of religious and economic autocrats who battle one another for power over the vulnerable population. Tiny Tully Island is an enclave of independent resistance to both the cult of the Hartford priests and the false benevolence of the Sanmart Corporation based in Albany. Herbal healer Fair and her adopted daughter, Terra, have a happy life there until concern for the safety of Fair’s son Orion takes them on a rescue mission, where they discover just how dangerous tyranny and elitism can be. In this dystopian novel, Beer (Human Scale, 2010, etc.) confronts a number of topical issues in a gripping, quick-paced tale of greed and self-sacrifice set in the near future. In a few careful phrases, Beer evokes the tenuous position of Tully (“Democracy keeps its head up here, along with a canny system of hiding their resources from the outside world”; the desperate squalor of a refugee camp (“rat stew”); and the frightening sincerity of the authoritarian apologist who says of democracy, “Fair to who? Think about it. Do you want folks who are stupid or ignorant or just plain twisted to be deciding your affairs?” One hardly begrudges a few amazing coincidences, such as Terra’s ease in finding her long-lost birth father, on the way to the satisfyingly ambiguous ending.

A view of the possible results of unbridled corporatism that is both unsettling and empowering.

Praise for What Love Can't Do

E. Jeanne Harnois
The title of What Love Can't Do, a new novel by Kitty Beer, sounds like a bodice ripper, but it's not. Well, there is plenty of bodice ripping going on, but that's not exactly the point. Love portrays the chaotic aftereffects of global warming and examines how people manage not just to survive, but also to keep their humanity, passion, and families intact. 

The novel, which starts in the mid-21st century, dunks the reader head-first as if into ice-water into a world--which used to be our world--where every day is a Mad Max battle for survival. Remember the unusually mild winter or the extraordinary number of hurricanes that coursed through this past season? Beer does. In Love, what started as a series of freak storms or weather anomalies, minor flukes in the weather patterns that warranted no more concern than a sound bite on the six o'clock news, have continued, growing in intensity and frequency as the earth seemingly convulses and heaves from the long-term effect of the toxins and pollutants that have nonchalantly been let loose on the environment. Her book isn't a polemic on the politics; she's not making judgments or pronouncements. She's taking it as a forgone fact. Her interest instead lies in the human element, the effect of these disasters on society. 

Beer paints a picture of a society forced to come to terms with the increasing calamities. Once the United States government shuts down, a disorderly sort of order follows in its wake. As the weather damage creeps north and the survivors migrate to safer climes, those already in the north (natives or previous refugees) seek to preserve what little they have for the short time they have it. Canada's government is able to stay more-or-less in one piece, but only by shutting down the border and effecting oppressive controls against its own people and taking even more extreme measures against refugees from the US. In both Canada and the US, to fill the void in government control, others step in: mercenaries, ad hoc local leaders, revolutionaries, and a chilling new religious order. 

Jesus is coming, and, boy is he pissed. This isn't the all-forgiving savior of Christian mythology, who died on the cross for our sins. This Jesus is going to stick around for a long, long time--if he ever gets here--and mercilessly punish those who don't believe. For, according to the tenets of Zorianism, the calamity was not caused by corporations and excessive consumption, but by a lack of faith. In addition to being split between those few who control the limited resources and those who must fend without, society is rapidly being split between the believers and the non-believers. 

Beer shows us the future through the eyes and hearts of three generations of women: Tati, her daughter, Crea, and her granddaughter, Fair, who each see the changing world from a different perspective. Tati, the matriarch of the family, remembers the old days the best and mourns their loss the most. These women are as passionate in their love--for each other and their several men--as they are in their fight for survival. For example, Tati, describing a visit with Crea, "is awed. She hungrily drinks in the sight of her, for a few seconds, tasting joy." Beer's women, who love fiercely and often, can best be described as lush and voluptuous of spirit. Their physical bodies can barely contain their passion. And Love is clearly their story. Some of the men share but can never equal the women's passion, others have become weak from life or are merely vessels of power and ego. And for better or worse, the women spend a great deal of time in the beds of the men they choose. While the women fear, fight over, or frown on their men, their love for each other is fierce, and they will use the same amount of passion as they put into their sexual relationships to fight for the preservation of their family. 

But while the characters of the women are fully developed, the men in their lives are not as thoroughly sketched out. They instead are more like easels, supporting the works of art that are the women. They themselves are, by comparison, roughly created and mainly functional. These men never come into their own, instead of gaining dimension, they have a habit of either dying or fading from view. 

The novel is well-written and gripping. Beer's calling seems to be her gift for creating vivid imagery. For instance, at one point she says of Crea, "her heart [is] so tight it feels like cracking." More than mere words, her images imbue the novel with life. Beer also has a knack for structure and pacing; What Love Can't Do simply flows. Each episode ends with the reader wanting more as Beer glides back and forth between each woman's story. The plot is tight and well-constructed, but never frugal. However, while she has a sense for the big picture, the sentence structure is a bit choppy, perhaps unconsciously mirroring the chaos in the society she portrays. (Along with fuel cells, verbs and commas seem to be at a premium in the new world order.) But, rough edges notwithstanding, the novel is an absorbing read. 

In the interest of full disclosure, Kitty Beer is a colleague: We are in the same writing group. As such, I have been privileged to follow the process of this novel along with her. But even though I had had a sneak peek of the work-in-progress, I still found myself engrossed in every word. In What Love Can't Do, Beer gives us a novel of stark reality, unrelenting chaos, and passionate love. It is a wildly potent mix that leaves the reader with a sense of yearning, especially when one realizes that Tati's loss could very well be our own. This novel will stay with you for a long time. Even after reading the final, vivid scene, you will still be reluctant to put it down. 
E.Jeanne Harnois is a Boston-based freelance writer.