Swarm by Lauren Carter

17852145Lauren Carter was completely unknown to me when I saw this title on a list of books at the 49th Shelf, as well as on the Canada Reads 2014 Top 40 list.  It sounded good, so I requested it from the library.  This book exceeded my expectations.  If you liked Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy, or if you like any kind of speculative fiction you will probably like this book.  Besides being a futuristic look at what could happen if the world starts to run out of oil, a clip from the Goodreads synopsis says:

…Swarm is about persevering in a time of shrinking options, and coming to terms with regrettable choices.

Fifteen years ago, Sandy lost her job and met Marvin.  She was desperate to fit in, to belong, and ended up making some bad choices.  The story goes back and forth between the Island, where Sandy, Marvin, and Thomson are now living, and the City from where they fled.  As it goes back and forth, we discover more about what happened 15 years ago, and what brought them to where they are now.

But we were playing.  Like birds of paradise, the male moving in a crazed dance of bright feathers to attract the duller female.  And I fell for it.  By the end of the next day he would have me.  There was a river and I was in it and it was sweeping me along where it would.

I knew I was cornered, but I was convincing myself I could make that corner comfortable: wallpaper it, drag in a comfy chair, feed the fire, have friends over.  Like I still had choices.

Everything in me ached to go back to the beginning.

I thought Sandy was an interesting character. Despite being passive and always apologetic, I liked her.  It was almost refreshing to have a heroine in a dystopian-type novel who is not always tough and rising to the occasion, but instead, one who is floundering and desperate to belong.  She latches on to Marvin, who is only too happy to tell her what to do.  Marvin; tough, angry, aggressive, and selfish.  Thankfully, Sandy also had Thomson on the Island with them.  He becomes more of a father figure to her.  The three of them share so much history, so many secrets, but not enough of a connection.  Sandy longs for a real family.  Then she notices food gone missing, and small footprints in her garden.

I know you, I think.  And I do.  The divots of your footprints in the damp earth, your body’s blur in the cedar trees.  So quick you could be anything.  An animal, an escaped thought.  But what you are, I feel, is mine, and what I want is simple.  For you to come inside.  To wash you in a warm, soapy bath.  Wrap a towel around your skinny frame.  Braid your hair on picture day.  Stand on the side of the road waiting for the yellow school bus.  Play a cartoon on the computer, make popcorn in the microwave, and sit on the couch and laugh.  That perfect life.  The one we once aspired to that won’t ever exist again.

In the end, I think Sandy is able to find some peace and contentment.  The story ends realistically, but also with a sense of hope.

…but wasn’t that how we survived?  By imagining better days, working toward those images in our minds.  …Without hope, you just drowned.

What I really like about this book is the real and close possibility of this future.  It’s not a stretch to wonder what might happen if we start to run out of oil.  What would life be like without computers, cellphones, electric stoves, gas for our cars, jobs, safe neighbourhoods, plentiful food, heat in any form besides fire, and readily available clean water?  How many of us are prepared for a future like that (besides my husband)?  This book shows us what it might be like.

… I knew I wasn’t unique.  All over the country people were abandoning things – walking away from houses they could no longer afford, leaving cars, pale yellow traffic tickets ruffling under the windshield wipers like feathers – whether it was their choice or not.  I was not special; my terror was not unique. Instead, I was simply joining their ranks.

It’s better not to push for the end with violence… In the end are the seeds of the beginning and we want them to be strong and good.

28 thoughts on “Swarm by Lauren Carter

  1. Cecilia says:

    You’re right – the premise is not so far of a stretch! I am still trying to get used to dystopian fiction. Maybe something like this that is not too fantastical would be a good place to start.

    • Naomi says:

      There is nothing fantastical at all in this book. Everything in it could truly be just around the corner. Which actually makes it more scary, really. It is definitely a good start if you’re not too sure about dystopian fiction. The writing was good, too. I have found, for the most part, poets turned authors have lovely writing. Her first book is a collection of poetry.

  2. writereads says:

    Oooh! I’ll have to add this to the list of choices for our Speculative Fiction month. Thank you for the recommend. I also liked what you said about having a female protagonist in a dystopian book that isn’t in totally in control of herself, it would make for a nice change.

    • Naomi says:

      I really enjoyed this book. I think it would make a great addition to your speculative fiction list.

      I can see some people not really liking Sandy, because of how passive she is, but I think I liked her better for it.

  3. ebookclassics says:

    I prefer strong, capable protagonists in dystopian stories, but this book sounds really good. Did you ever feel frustrated with the heroine for being passive, etc.?

    • Naomi says:

      Yes, I did for sure. I tried a few times to tell her what she should do, but she usually didn’t listen to me. It was a good frustration, though. I thought it was more realistic that way.

  4. Lauren says:

    Hi Naomi: Thanks so much for your thoughts on my book and the recommend! If you or your readers have any questions about Swarm, I’d be happy to answer them here on your blog! Take care 🙂

    • Naomi says:

      Hi Lauren, Thanks so much for commenting! I did love your book, and I do have a question: did I read Sandy’s character correctly, or was I way off? Who better to ask? Thanks! I look forward to reading more from you.

      • Lauren says:

        Yes, Sandy certainly is passive in the sense that she allows herself to be manipulated by Marvin at a time when her choices have significantly narrowed. When I was writing Swarm, I was teaching college and thinking a lot about the decline in feminism and how many of my female students didn’t have the sort of gumption and outspokenness that young women aspired to when I went to uni in the ‘90s. I wanted to explore this sort of character and as Swarm is set in the future it seemed appropriate to me that Sandy would be of this generation. However she needed to change and I hope it’s clear that she does by the time she’s thinking about what she wants, and what (in the current conditions) she can get, on the island.

      • Naomi says:

        I almost hate to ask, but do you have any sense of what happens to Sandy and Marvin after the end of the book? Marvin just doesn’t seem like the greatest guy to spend the rest of her life with, although I’m glad they finally had it out (wish I could re-read that part, since it’s a bit fuzzy now, but it was a library book). I was content with the ending, but still wondered what was next for them. Thanks for your time!

  5. Lauren says:

    Hmmm… That’s an interesting question. I have had quite a few people tell me they want a sequel. I don’t want to give too much away, but I think in writing this I thought a lot about how we take it for granted that we can shoot for our personal happiness above all else (ie. making sure you have enough food to eat, helping your neighbours survive, etc). Part of Sandy’s journey is coming to terms with the fact that in hardship you have to accept where life brings you and find happiness where you can (which I think Thomson more-or-less says to her at one point). I love answering questions about the book, so you’re welcome and thank you!

  6. Tom says:

    What I found chilling was how much of this narrative has already taken place… here or not too far beyond our borders. Anarchy in our own communities may be only a crisis away. The window in which our society has enjoyed the (mixed) benefits of fossil fuels spans an incredibly short period of human history. Despite ample proof that these resources are limited, we are woefully unprepared for what must surely come afterwards. Governments have been focused on squeezing every penny from a diminishing resource and far to lax on planing for our future. Congratulations, Lauren on a thought-provoking novel – one that is only a headline away from crossing the line between fiction and non-fiction.

      • Lauren says:

        Thank you! And, yes, I agree. I used several real-world examples of “collapse” in this book, pulled from the (web)pages of mainly American newspapers of the time – for example, when Sandy talks about people leaving their loved ones in funeral homes because they couldn’t afford to bury them. That was from a paper in Michigan, I believe.

  7. 5eyedbookworm says:

    I just read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and this is definitely a book that I’d like to read. I’ve read a few speculative fiction books so this is going to be added to my TBR list. Thank you!

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