Sunday, February 12, 2023

The Perishing by Natashia Deon


I bought THE PERISHING without really knowing anything about it because the summary intrigued me so much. I'm a sucker for literary fiction-type books about immortals, like Megan Chance's INAMORATA and Alma Katsu's THE TAKER, so that basically sold me on the book alone. When I found out that the heroine was Black, and the story was kind of a vehicle for exploring racism and inequality and the whitewashing of history, well, that just further sealed the deal.

I'm actually kind of surprised that THE PERISHING has such bad ratings on Goodreads. Sometimes, it seem like people just band together and decide that a certain book is "bad," which is weird because I remember seeing this book on a lot of hype lists when it was first coming out. I think the problem is that when a book is different and doesn't really fit into a specific genre, people sometimes think that means it's bad. THE PERISHING is a historical fiction book with sepculative elements and a bit of romance. In fact, it's a lot like some of the feminist sci-fi-fantasy books I read from the 80s and 90s by authors like Sheri S. Tepper, Joan D. Vinge, and Octavia Butler.

The story has two narrators: Lou and Sarah. They're the same person because Lou is ageless: an immortal who woke up one day in the body of a teenager with no memory of her past. She's adopted by a foster family and raised as their own, and develops an interest in journalism. Then one day, in a martial arts group, she sees a man she's been drawing unknowingly, despite never seeing his face. Most of the book is about Lou and her coming of age as a Black woman living in Los Angeles in the 1930s, and I loved the unflinching portrayal of that melting pot culture rife with racial tensions and inequality that people still did their best to gloss over, even then. I also really liked Lou as a heroine, and her prematurely jaded but still sort of artistic, wistful view about life.

Some people thought the villain was predictable, but I honestly didn't see that twist coming, nor do I think that their motives were any worse than the villain in a comic book movie. There's a larger-than-life vibe to the book that works well with its philosophical topics, and what it strives to achieve doesn't feel that much different than what CLOUD ATLAS tried to do. In fact, I actually liked this book better than CLOUD ATLAS: the writing is less dense and more accessible, and I liked the characters better. I do agree that the story could feel meandering at times and hard to follow, but I ended up really liking that element. You could just lean back and let the book take you on a journey. Sure, some things could have been explained better and the future storyline wasn't as good as the past one, but this book was just so different and interesting, and had me highlighting so many passages, that I can't give it a bad rating.

Don't let the negative reviews scare you away. If you're into different and liked the experimental speculative fiction that was popular amongst a certain subset of authors in the late 20th century, I definitely recommend THE PERISHING.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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