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The Resisters

A novel

Author Gish Jen
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The time: not so long from now. The place: AutoAmerica, a country surveilled by one “Aunt Nettie,” a Big Brother that is part artificial intelligence, part internet, and oddly human—even funny. The people: divided. The “angel-fair” Netted have jobs, and, what with the country half underwater, literally occupy the high ground. The Surplus live on swampland if they’re lucky, on water if they’re not.

The story: to a Surplus couple—he once a professor, she still a lawyer—is born a girl with a golden arm. At two, Gwen is hurling her stuffed animals from the crib; by ten, she can hit whatever target she likes. Her teenage years find her happily playing in an underground baseball league. When AutoAmerica faces ChinRussia in the Olympics, though, Gwen attracts interest. Soon she finds herself in dangerous territory, playing ball with the Netted even as her mother battles this apartheid-like society in court.

Provocative, moving, and yet paradoxically buoyant, The Resisters is the story of one family struggling to maintain their humanity in circumstances that threaten their every value—indeed, their very existence. It is Gish Jen at her most irresistible, her most insightful, and her most electrifying.
 
The Resisters is palpably loving, smart, funny and desperately unsettling. The novel should be required reading for the country, both as a cautionary tale and because it is a stone-cold masterpiece. This is Gish Jen’s moment. She has pitched a perfect game.” —Ann Patchett, author of The Dutch House
 
“An absolute joy. . . . I finished The Resisters with a tear in my eye and a smile on my face. Who could ask for a better combo? Gish Jen has written a one-of-a-kind book with great characters—especially Eleanor, who is the heart of the story—and a warm heart. Remind Ms. Jen that the great Ernie Banks said, ‘Hey, guys, let’s play two!’ Which is my way of saying I wouldn’t mind a sequel. Probably won’t happen, but a guy can hope. P.S. This lady knows her baseball.” 
—Stephen King, author of The Institute

“The magic of Gish Jen’s latest novel is that, amid a dark and cautionary tale, there’s a story also filled with electricity and humor—and baseball . . . Written in Jen’s clear, assured style and delivered from Grant’s slyly ironic perspective, The Resisters will captivate readers. Rippling with action, suspense and lovingly detailed baseball play-by-plays, there’s a sense throughout the book of both celebration and danger. . . . This novel’s great gift to readers is its rich and multifaceted characters. Through them, we learn both the cost and the necessity of standing up and speaking out.” —Diana Abu-Jaber, The Washington Post


“Inspired. . . . Hits close to the bone. . . . The power of The Resisters derives from Jen’s inventive elaboration on how the change happened; how Americans gratefully handed over their autonomy to a big combo of machines, AI and the omnipotent Internet. . . . Its appeal rests on its ingenuity, which is unflagging, [and on Jen’s] characteristic generosity and restrained optimism.” —Maureen Corrigan, NPR.org

“A dystopia so chillingly plausible that an entire review could be spent simply describing its components. To do that, however, would scant the provocative ideas that underpin her gripping tale of a family confronting the digitally empowered authoritarian state. . . . Over the course of three decades, Jen’s social and psychological observations have only sharpened, while her marvelous humor has darkened. . . . Alert as always to the demands of storytelling and character development, she crafts a suspenseful, deftly plotted narrative” —Wendy Smith, The Boston Globe

“Intricately imagined. . . . The Resisters is a book that grows directly out of the soil of our current political moment, and much of the book’s unsettling pleasure lies in Jen’s ingenious extrapolation (or, in some cases, redescription) of contemporary problems. [She] has a gifted ear for the manipulative languages of tech, marketing and government.” —Karen Thompson Walker, The New York Times Book Review

“Compelling. . . . A face-paced novel with exciting, poetic writing. . . . Stands with the best of dystopian literature.” —George Longenecker, Rain Taxi Review

“Readers weary of grim prognostications will appreciate Jen’s exuberant invention as she helps us consider a future we don’t want, how to avoid it, and the vitality of alternatives. At every turn, Gwen and company create their own lives as much as possible, choosing DIY over the drugged seductions of the digitized state. Descriptions of how they grow their own food, deliciously, and knit their own garments and blankets, gloriously, add color and texture to a world where the agency of real humans can’t always be predicted or controlled.” —Valerie Schloredt, Yes! Magazine

The Resisters is wonderfully inventive and poignant; a smart warning about at a possible future that could come before we know it.” —Annette Gordon-Reed, author of “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs”: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination

“A rabble-rousing tale with an ominous edge. . . . The winning, suspenseful heart of the book is Gwen’s resourceful action on the [baseball] field. Jen’s jauntily sinister AutoAmerican argot is a continual pleasure as well. Best of all is her take on why even the ultimate surveillance society can’t quite muffle the human spirit.” —Michael Upchurch, The Seattle Times

“Triumphantly original. . . . Don’t dare call this fantasy or science fiction. This is a world all too terrifying, dangerous and real. . . . A ‘1984’ for our times.” —Dan Cryer, Newsday

“From its first page, Jen’s dystopian novel crackles with energy. Set in the near future, the story takes place in the new AutoAmerica, where the Netted live in luxury, while the Surplus struggle to earn their comforts. Unsettling yet light, funny yet meaningful, this book should keep you reading, then talking for months.” —Bethanne Patrick, The Washington Post

“An entertaining ride in a new yet familiar world. . . . Jen world-builds effortlessly. . . . Newly coined words become part of your own parlance within pages. . . . Empowering.”  —Abby Manzella, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Jen writes electric, entertaining sentences. I can hear the author having fun throughout the book. . . . In sport, Jen finds a metaphor for what it is to be human.” —Rumaan Alam, Bookforum

“[Gish Jen] has long had a feel for sweeping, subversive explorations of American life. . . . As Jen reveals how America became AutoAmerica, one seemingly tiny but cumulatively fatal development at a time, she finds in baseball a compelling metaphor for a country that will always have something to prove.” —David Canfield, Entertainment Weekly

“Jen masterfully builds her dystopian world, depicting how easily such a change can creep over a populace too ready to trade liberty for convenience. . . . At heart, a story about love, family, and the core values of freedom and independence.” —Ed Tarkington, Nashville Scene

“In this astutely realized and unnervingly possible depiction of a near-future world, Jen masterfully entwines shrewd mischief, knowing compassion, and profound social critique in a suspenseful tale encompassing baseball ardor, family love, newly insidious forms of racism and tyranny, and a wily and righteous resistance movement that declares ‘RIGHT MAKES RIGHT.’” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

“Subtle dystopian fiction. . . . beautifully crafted and slyly unsettling. . . . The juxtaposition of America’s pastime and the AI-enabled surveillance state Jen presents here is brilliant.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“[A] shrewd and provocative near-future novel. . . . [Jen’s] intelligence and control shine through in a chilling portrait of the casual acceptance of totalitarianism.” —Publishers Weekly

“Can there be a dystopian novel of lightness, delicacy and charm? In which baseball, our subtle, determined summer game, is the means of resistance against the dehumanizing overlords? In which a girl who pitches like Satchel Paige is the blue-haired hero? Gish Jen says, Yes! And she is right! Where there is baseball, there is hope. And beautiful prose, too.” —Cathleen Schine, author of The Grammarians
 
“Inventive, funny, and tender, The Resisters is about family, baseball, and the future—but more than anything, it is about freedom, and it is about us—here, now.” —Allegra Goodman, author of The Chalk Artist

“Brilliant. . . . A heartbreaking novel with the sensitivity, emotional range, and prophetic power of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale.” —Jean Kwok, author of Searching for Sylvie Lee

“I LOVE this novel as much as I fear the future Gish Jen has conjured in it. In this anything but brave new world, baseball is what survives and reminds us of our humanity, and a girl’s golden arm forms the kernel of resistance. What an enchanting conceit! Gish Jen has hit a grand slam.” —Jane Leavy, author of The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World he Created
© Basso Cannarsa

GISH JEN’s most recent novel is THE RESISTERS; she also has a new book coming out in January 2022 entitled THANK YOU, MR. NIXON. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a recipient of fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute and the Guggenheim Foundation as well as of a Lannan Literary Award for Fiction and of a Mildred and Harold Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her short work has appeared in the New Yorker and other magazines, and have been chosen for The Best American Short Stories five times, including The Best American Short Stories of the Century. She delivered the William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in American Studies at Harvard University, where she is currently a visiting professor.

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Part I

A Girl with a Golden Arm

As her parents, Eleanor and I should have known earlier. But Gwen was a preemie, to begin with. That meant oxygen at first and, after that, special checkups. And her early months were bumpy. She had jaundice; she had roseola; she had colic. She had a heart murmur. Things that I can now see distracted us—especially with the One Chance Policy, we were focused on her health to the exclusion of all else. For the Netted, it was different, of course, but for us Surplus, the limit was one pregnancy per couple, and Eleanor was just out of jail. Outside the house, she had a DroneMinder tracking her every move; the message was clear. She was not getting away with anything.

And in any case, we loved Gwen and would never have wanted to replace her, worried though we were that she was delicate—that she might never consume the way she needed to, the way we all needed to. Not that charges of underconsumption couldn’t be fought in the courts. This was AutoAmerica, after all. For all the changes wrought by AI and Automation—now rolled up with the internet into the iBurrito we called Aunt Nettie—we did still have a Constitution. And if anyone could defend what was left of our rights, it was our own fierce Eleanor, of whom even the platoons of Canada geese who patrolled our neighborhood—the pit bulls, one might say, of the waddling world—were afraid. But as Eleanor’s incarceration brought home, these battles had a price, and in the meanwhile, even worrying and weighing the options distracted us from realizing other things—things we might have noticed a bit earlier, had Gwen had a sibling. It is so hard for a new parent to imagine a child any different from the one he or she has—children do so have their own gravity. They are their own normal.

And so it is only now that we can see there were signs. All children take what’s in their crib and throw it, for example. It is universal. But Gwen threw her stuffed animals straight through her bedroom doorway. They shot out, never so much as grazing the door frame, and they always hit the wall of the staircase across from her bedroom at a certain spot, with the precise force they needed to bounce forward and drop clean down to the bottom of the stairwell. Was she maybe two when she did this? Not even, although she was already a southpaw. And already she seemed to have unusually long arms and long fingers—or so I remember remarking one day, not that Eleanor and I had so many babies on which to base our comparison. Ours was just an impression. But it was a strong impression. Her fingers were long. I remember, too, having to round up a veritable menagerie on the landing before I could start up the stairs. The stuffed hippo, the stuffed tiger, the three or four stuffed dogs, the stuffed orca and toucan and platypus and turtle—I gathered them all into my arms like the storybook zookeeper of some peaceable kingdom. It was as if I, too, ought by rights to have been made of plush. Of course, our house was automated—as all Surplus houses were required to be, by law—and the animals could easily have been clear-floated. All I had to do was say the word and the HouseBots would emerge from their closets, their green appendages poised to help. Clear-float now? Aren’t those animals in your way? And, We can roll’n’clear if you’d prefer. You have a choice. You always have a choice—the choice business being a new feature of the program. A bit of cyber-ingratiation, you might say, to balance its more habitual cyber-intimidation. If you trip, it will be your own fault, for example. And, Do note that your choice is on the record. Nothing is being hidden from you. Your choice is on the record. Meaning that I was losing Living Points every time—Living Points being something like what we used to call brownie points when I was growing up, except that these were more critical than money for everything from getting a loan to getting a plane ticket to getting Gwen into Net U one day, should we dream of doing that—a goal that people said involved tens of thousands, or maybe even hundreds of thousands, of points.

But I picked the animals up myself anyway—as did Eleanor, when it was she who came upon them, her silver hair and black eyes shining—and all because we wanted to dump the animals into Gwen’s crib ourselves and hear her quick cresting laughter as she immediately set about hurling them again. Everything was a game to her, a most wonderful, loving, endless game. Her spy-eyes lit up with mischief; her tea-brown cheeks flushed the hot orange pink you see on the underside of clouds at sunset. Often she laughed so hard, she fell as she threw—plopping down on her soft bottom but grabbing the crib rails so hard as she scrambled back up that the whole crib shook. Was this the delicate newborn we had once so anxiously tended? Now breathtakingly robust—indestructible, it seemed—she wore an old-time soft yellow blanket sleeper with attached feet and bunny ears, a hand-knit, extra-warm version of a suit Eleanor remembered from her own childhood. None of this baby-zone heating over Gwen’s crib, in other words. She hardly seemed to need zone-heat in any case, having learned so early to blow on her hands if they were cold and to cuddle with us, if she needed to, for warmth. Indeed, we were all given to cuddling, and we all wore sweaters, too, to avoid turning on the zone-heat, for which we were constantly house-scolded. Don’t you find it a bit chilly? Why not choose to turn on the zone-heat? You’ll be more comfortable—Eleanor, especially. Don’t you find it a bit chilly?

But we ignored it. For this was how the AutoHouse started, wasn’t it, with thermostats that sent to Aunt Nettie first data, then videos? Then came DroneDeliverers and FridgeStockers, KidTrackers and RoboSitters, ElderHelpers and YardBots, all of which reported to Aunt Nettie as dutifully as any spy network—recording our steps, our pictures, our relationships, and (back when we soon-to-be-Surplus still had them) our careers. And she, in turn, took what she knew and applied it—even proffering, along the way, solace and advice. Indeed, in the early days of Automation, I myself brought up AskAuntNettie more often than I care to recall and can still remember her consoling voice as she volunteered I’m here and insisted I want to hear everything and reassured me Of course you feel that way, Grant, how could you not? You’re only human.

I did laugh at that You’re only human.

Still I found not only that part of me responded to the words, but that it responded deeply, that it listened gratefully as Aunt Nettie advanced some surprisingly useful advice on a range of subjects, including the many—I hadn’t realized how many—for which noble Eleanor had no time. Would someone like me, whose mother had had him with WhoNeedsThemMen, have trouble knowing how to be a father, for example? The answer to which was that, given what men could be, I might in fact be better off without a role model anyway. Or how about: Did someone like me really need to own both black and brown shoes now that I was no longer teaching? The answer to which was yes, if I cared about social acceptance, which yes, my data showed that I did, underneath, and which, really, was just as well—correlated as such concern was with mental health, especially among Unretrainables such as, yes, she had heard I now was.

Today Aunt Nettie would no doubt use the term “Surplus”—“Unretrainables” having been aggregated with “Unemployables” such as the elderly for the purposes of administering our Basic Incomes. But Unretrainables were in fact different. Unretrainables were people like me, with discontinued professions. Factory workers, drivers, and customer service representatives, in the beginning—joined, as Aunt Nettie grew by breathtaking leap after leap more capable, by assorted doctors, lawyers, teachers, accountants. Professors. Programmers. Brokers. And, as Aunt Nettie assumed an ever greater role in government: Staffers. Poll workers. Selectmen. Auditors. Ombudsmen. Judges. It goes without saying that not all the Unretrainables were coppertoned, like me. A great many were angelfair. But it was hard not to notice that the Unretrainables did somehow include everyone coppertoned, as well as everyone spy-eyed, like Eleanor, and everyone odd-bodied, too, not to say the odd-godded—Muslims, for example. It was, one had to say, quite a coincidence that the underclass looked as it did; groups like AutoAmericans Against Apartheid called it the New Segregation.

And what about meditation? I asked Aunt Nettie once. Would that help me tame certain mannerisms I had developed since my work was discontinued? The answer to which was, again, yes, and here was a link to get me started, although she thought I might also just try sitting on my hands.

Like others, I had allowed Aunt Nettie to keep my calendar back in the days when, as the young head of an English as a second language program, I still had immigrants to teach and obligations to juggle. This was some time ago, now—back before Ship’EmBack. But like others, then, I had also allowed Aunt Nettie to email people on my behalf, checking the “mimic your voice” option and marveling at just how perfectly she could replicate my tics of phrasing. She had even captured a certain formality I had picked up from my mother—a holdover from her days as a Caribbean schoolmarm—because I had, in my youthful diligence, sent so many thousands of emails. Indeed, Aunt Nettie had so much data on me that not even Eleanor could tell it was not I who had composed the messages she received from my account. And like others, too, I had taken advantage of the EZ tools offered to me and trained Aunt Nettie to write my lessons and my syllabi—even to generate sample sentences and punny jokes. Indeed, I trained her so well that I had more than once observed that an avatar could now run the class.

As for why I did these things—I generally did them, I see now, because I appreciated some associated convenience, which was to say because I could be, as my mother liked to say, lazy as a rock at the bottom of a hill. And as for the resulting reality, was it not disconcertingly like the sea level rise and heat and wind we knew, long ago, would come with climate change but have since come to call normal? No one would have willfully chosen the stranding of whole office parks and schools and neighborhoods by the flooding we saw now. No one would have willfully chosen the generating of the places we called marooned places, just as no one would have chosen the extinction of frogs and of polar bears, or the decimation of our pine and spruce forests by the explosion in the number of bark beetles. And yet it was something we humans did finally choose. After all, it was not the earth that chose it, or any other creature. It was we who made our world what it was. It was we who were responsible.

And who else was to blame that we Surplus were now required by law to have AutoHouses, which were for the most part AutoHouseboats, collected into Flotsam Towns? Happily, house video surveillance did end. We did at least now have—thanks to the herculean efforts of Eleanor and her legal team—an A/V data shutoff to which you could resort. It wasn’t the default. To get at it you had to remove a wall panel with a special screwdriver for which you had to send away, and which was always on backorder; I do think they made about a dozen a year. Then you had to rewire the thing yourself, and it goes without saying that absolutely nothing was labeled. But still, the shutoff was there.

As for the price of victory—well, let us just say that it was only after some years that we beheld Gwen and finally had the bandwidth to think what we should have thought all along. Namely: How extraordinary.

I had bought Gwen a pink Spalding ball at an underground yard sale and seen how she laughed as she threw it at my nose. I had seen how she laughed, too, when I found her a tiny baseball glove, at another underground sale. I had seen her put it on her head like a hat. I had seen her talk to the glove and sleep with it under her pillow. And as she grew older, I had seen how she could throw an apple smack into the mouth of a Halloween scarecrow from clear across a field. She threw a kid’s handphone back to him through the window of a moving AutoLyft. She hammered a nail into a pole by throwing a rock at it from across the street.

Was it not uncanny? We called it her gift. And sometimes, when Eleanor and I were talking, just the two of us, we reached back into old-time thinking and parlance and asked, Is this what people meant when they said something was God-given? Not that we were religious—hardly. And every child is humbling in a way that was hard even for old-time people to express—hard, that is, even for people who had not been brought up to seek truth in big data and algorithms but in things like books. Indeed, Gwen, too, was much more than her gift. She, too, was an embodiment of that tornado that is girlhood—that glorious whirlwind of silliness and sophistication that seems to dance and spin and touch down just exactly where it likes.

Yet Gwen’s particular gift awed us in a special way. Was there not something miraculous about it—this ability? This talent? This knack? This utterly useless aptitude? Where did it come from? What was its purpose? We were, as I said, in awe. And maybe that was why we used that phrase, “God-given”—a phrase whose meaning we did not quite know, but that meant, we understood, beyond us. Beyond our ken. Beyond our grasp. Beyond human understanding, and beyond inhuman understanding, too. Beyond Aunt Nettie. And as a father, all I wanted was to see her, in all her giftedness and idiosyncratic humanity, bloom.
“Intricately imagined . . . The Resisters is a book that grows directly out of the soil of our current political moment.” The New York Times Book Review

“The magic of [The Resisters] is that, amid a dark and cautionary tale, there’s a story also filled with electricity and humor—and baseball. . . . [A] great gift.” The Washington Post

“Sweeping, subversive. . . . Brilliant. . . . [The Resisters] finds in baseball a compelling metaphor for a country that will always have something to prove.”Entertainment Weekly
 
“A dystopia so chillingly plausible that an entire review could be spent simply describing its components. . . . Marvelous.”  —The Boston Globe
 
“[An] inspired vision. . . . In The Resisters, [Jen] offers hope that, after a long, misbegotten seventh-inning stretch, Americans of the near future will be eager to once again play ball and take up the hard work of participatory democracy.” —NPR

“Jen writes electric, entertaining sentences. . . . In sport, Jen finds a metaphor for what it is to be human.” Bookforum
 
“An entertaining ride in a new yet familiar world. . . . Empowering.” Minneapolis Star Tribune
 
“Triumphantly original . . . a 1984 for our time. . . . Don’t dare call this fantasy or science fiction. This is a world all too terrifying, dangerous and real.” Newsday
 
“Sweeping, subversive. . . . Brilliant. . . . As Jen reveals how America became AutoAmerica, one seemingly tiny but cumulatively fatal development at a time, she finds in baseball a compelling metaphor for a country that will always have something to prove.” Entertainment Weekly
 
“Jen masterfully builds her dystopian world, depicting how easily such a change can creep over a populace too ready to trade liberty for convenience . . . At heart, a story about love, family, and the core values of freedom and independence.” Nashville Scene
 
“Clever . . . So meaningful, and so disquieting . . . The Resisters raises a host of provocative questions about what a ruthless combination of omnipresent technology and economic inequality might look like. George Orwell would be proud. And scared.” Shelf Awareness
  
“Astutely realized and unnervingly possible . . . Jen masterfully entwines shrewd mischief, knowing compassion, and profound social critique in a suspenseful tale encompassing baseball ardor, family love, newly insidious forms of racism and tyranny, and a wily and righteous resistance movement.”Booklist (starred review)
 
“A dire tale of nonconformity in a world gone mad.” Library Journal (starred review)
 
“Subtle dystopian fiction . . . beautifully crafted and slyly unsettling. . . . The juxtaposition of America’s pastime and the AI-enabled surveillance state Jen presents here is brilliant.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
 
“[A] shrewd and provocative near-future novel. . . . [Jen’s] intelligence and control shine through in a chilling portrait of the casual acceptance of totalitarianism.” Publishers Weekly

The Resisters is palpably loving, smart, funny and desperately unsettling. The novel should be required reading for the country, both as a cautionary tale and because it is a stone-cold masterpiece. This is Gish Jen’s moment. She has pitched a perfect game.” —Ann Patchett, author of The Dutch House
 
“An absolute joy . . . I finished The Resisters with a tear in my eye and a smile on my face. Who could ask for a better combo? Gish Jen has written a one-of-a-kind book with great characters—especially Eleanor, who is the heart of the story—and a warm heart. Remind Ms. Jen that the great Ernie Banks said, ‘Hey, guys, let’s play two!’ Which is my way of saying I wouldn’t mind a sequel. Probably won’t happen, but a guy can hope. P.S. This lady knows her baseball.” —Stephen King, author of The Institute

“Can there be a dystopian novel of lightness, delicacy and charm? In which baseball, our subtle, determined summer game, is the means of resistance against the dehumanizing overlords? In which a girl who pitches like Satchel Paige is the blue-haired hero? Gish Jen says, Yes! And she is right! Where there is baseball, there is hope. And beautiful prose, too.” —Cathleen Schine, author of The Grammarians
 
“Inventive, funny, and tender, The Resisters is about family, baseball, and the future—but more than anything, it is about freedom, and it is about us—here, now.” —Allegra Goodman, author of The Chalk Artist

“Brilliant . . . A heartbreaking novel with the sensitivity, emotional range, and prophetic power of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale.” —Jean Kwok, author of Searching for Sylvie Lee

“I LOVE this novel as much as I fear the future Gish Jen has conjured in it. In this anything but brave new world, baseball is what survives and reminds us of our humanity, and a girl’s golden arm forms the kernel of resistance. What an enchanting conceit! Gish Jen has hit a grand slam.” —Jane Leavy, author of The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World he Created

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About

The time: not so long from now. The place: AutoAmerica, a country surveilled by one “Aunt Nettie,” a Big Brother that is part artificial intelligence, part internet, and oddly human—even funny. The people: divided. The “angel-fair” Netted have jobs, and, what with the country half underwater, literally occupy the high ground. The Surplus live on swampland if they’re lucky, on water if they’re not.

The story: to a Surplus couple—he once a professor, she still a lawyer—is born a girl with a golden arm. At two, Gwen is hurling her stuffed animals from the crib; by ten, she can hit whatever target she likes. Her teenage years find her happily playing in an underground baseball league. When AutoAmerica faces ChinRussia in the Olympics, though, Gwen attracts interest. Soon she finds herself in dangerous territory, playing ball with the Netted even as her mother battles this apartheid-like society in court.

Provocative, moving, and yet paradoxically buoyant, The Resisters is the story of one family struggling to maintain their humanity in circumstances that threaten their every value—indeed, their very existence. It is Gish Jen at her most irresistible, her most insightful, and her most electrifying.
 
The Resisters is palpably loving, smart, funny and desperately unsettling. The novel should be required reading for the country, both as a cautionary tale and because it is a stone-cold masterpiece. This is Gish Jen’s moment. She has pitched a perfect game.” —Ann Patchett, author of The Dutch House
 
“An absolute joy. . . . I finished The Resisters with a tear in my eye and a smile on my face. Who could ask for a better combo? Gish Jen has written a one-of-a-kind book with great characters—especially Eleanor, who is the heart of the story—and a warm heart. Remind Ms. Jen that the great Ernie Banks said, ‘Hey, guys, let’s play two!’ Which is my way of saying I wouldn’t mind a sequel. Probably won’t happen, but a guy can hope. P.S. This lady knows her baseball.” 
—Stephen King, author of The Institute

“The magic of Gish Jen’s latest novel is that, amid a dark and cautionary tale, there’s a story also filled with electricity and humor—and baseball . . . Written in Jen’s clear, assured style and delivered from Grant’s slyly ironic perspective, The Resisters will captivate readers. Rippling with action, suspense and lovingly detailed baseball play-by-plays, there’s a sense throughout the book of both celebration and danger. . . . This novel’s great gift to readers is its rich and multifaceted characters. Through them, we learn both the cost and the necessity of standing up and speaking out.” —Diana Abu-Jaber, The Washington Post


“Inspired. . . . Hits close to the bone. . . . The power of The Resisters derives from Jen’s inventive elaboration on how the change happened; how Americans gratefully handed over their autonomy to a big combo of machines, AI and the omnipotent Internet. . . . Its appeal rests on its ingenuity, which is unflagging, [and on Jen’s] characteristic generosity and restrained optimism.” —Maureen Corrigan, NPR.org

“A dystopia so chillingly plausible that an entire review could be spent simply describing its components. To do that, however, would scant the provocative ideas that underpin her gripping tale of a family confronting the digitally empowered authoritarian state. . . . Over the course of three decades, Jen’s social and psychological observations have only sharpened, while her marvelous humor has darkened. . . . Alert as always to the demands of storytelling and character development, she crafts a suspenseful, deftly plotted narrative” —Wendy Smith, The Boston Globe

“Intricately imagined. . . . The Resisters is a book that grows directly out of the soil of our current political moment, and much of the book’s unsettling pleasure lies in Jen’s ingenious extrapolation (or, in some cases, redescription) of contemporary problems. [She] has a gifted ear for the manipulative languages of tech, marketing and government.” —Karen Thompson Walker, The New York Times Book Review

“Compelling. . . . A face-paced novel with exciting, poetic writing. . . . Stands with the best of dystopian literature.” —George Longenecker, Rain Taxi Review

“Readers weary of grim prognostications will appreciate Jen’s exuberant invention as she helps us consider a future we don’t want, how to avoid it, and the vitality of alternatives. At every turn, Gwen and company create their own lives as much as possible, choosing DIY over the drugged seductions of the digitized state. Descriptions of how they grow their own food, deliciously, and knit their own garments and blankets, gloriously, add color and texture to a world where the agency of real humans can’t always be predicted or controlled.” —Valerie Schloredt, Yes! Magazine

The Resisters is wonderfully inventive and poignant; a smart warning about at a possible future that could come before we know it.” —Annette Gordon-Reed, author of “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs”: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination

“A rabble-rousing tale with an ominous edge. . . . The winning, suspenseful heart of the book is Gwen’s resourceful action on the [baseball] field. Jen’s jauntily sinister AutoAmerican argot is a continual pleasure as well. Best of all is her take on why even the ultimate surveillance society can’t quite muffle the human spirit.” —Michael Upchurch, The Seattle Times

“Triumphantly original. . . . Don’t dare call this fantasy or science fiction. This is a world all too terrifying, dangerous and real. . . . A ‘1984’ for our times.” —Dan Cryer, Newsday

“From its first page, Jen’s dystopian novel crackles with energy. Set in the near future, the story takes place in the new AutoAmerica, where the Netted live in luxury, while the Surplus struggle to earn their comforts. Unsettling yet light, funny yet meaningful, this book should keep you reading, then talking for months.” —Bethanne Patrick, The Washington Post

“An entertaining ride in a new yet familiar world. . . . Jen world-builds effortlessly. . . . Newly coined words become part of your own parlance within pages. . . . Empowering.”  —Abby Manzella, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Jen writes electric, entertaining sentences. I can hear the author having fun throughout the book. . . . In sport, Jen finds a metaphor for what it is to be human.” —Rumaan Alam, Bookforum

“[Gish Jen] has long had a feel for sweeping, subversive explorations of American life. . . . As Jen reveals how America became AutoAmerica, one seemingly tiny but cumulatively fatal development at a time, she finds in baseball a compelling metaphor for a country that will always have something to prove.” —David Canfield, Entertainment Weekly

“Jen masterfully builds her dystopian world, depicting how easily such a change can creep over a populace too ready to trade liberty for convenience. . . . At heart, a story about love, family, and the core values of freedom and independence.” —Ed Tarkington, Nashville Scene

“In this astutely realized and unnervingly possible depiction of a near-future world, Jen masterfully entwines shrewd mischief, knowing compassion, and profound social critique in a suspenseful tale encompassing baseball ardor, family love, newly insidious forms of racism and tyranny, and a wily and righteous resistance movement that declares ‘RIGHT MAKES RIGHT.’” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

“Subtle dystopian fiction. . . . beautifully crafted and slyly unsettling. . . . The juxtaposition of America’s pastime and the AI-enabled surveillance state Jen presents here is brilliant.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“[A] shrewd and provocative near-future novel. . . . [Jen’s] intelligence and control shine through in a chilling portrait of the casual acceptance of totalitarianism.” —Publishers Weekly

“Can there be a dystopian novel of lightness, delicacy and charm? In which baseball, our subtle, determined summer game, is the means of resistance against the dehumanizing overlords? In which a girl who pitches like Satchel Paige is the blue-haired hero? Gish Jen says, Yes! And she is right! Where there is baseball, there is hope. And beautiful prose, too.” —Cathleen Schine, author of The Grammarians
 
“Inventive, funny, and tender, The Resisters is about family, baseball, and the future—but more than anything, it is about freedom, and it is about us—here, now.” —Allegra Goodman, author of The Chalk Artist

“Brilliant. . . . A heartbreaking novel with the sensitivity, emotional range, and prophetic power of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale.” —Jean Kwok, author of Searching for Sylvie Lee

“I LOVE this novel as much as I fear the future Gish Jen has conjured in it. In this anything but brave new world, baseball is what survives and reminds us of our humanity, and a girl’s golden arm forms the kernel of resistance. What an enchanting conceit! Gish Jen has hit a grand slam.” —Jane Leavy, author of The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World he Created

Author

© Basso Cannarsa

GISH JEN’s most recent novel is THE RESISTERS; she also has a new book coming out in January 2022 entitled THANK YOU, MR. NIXON. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a recipient of fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute and the Guggenheim Foundation as well as of a Lannan Literary Award for Fiction and of a Mildred and Harold Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her short work has appeared in the New Yorker and other magazines, and have been chosen for The Best American Short Stories five times, including The Best American Short Stories of the Century. She delivered the William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in American Studies at Harvard University, where she is currently a visiting professor.

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Excerpt

Part I

A Girl with a Golden Arm

As her parents, Eleanor and I should have known earlier. But Gwen was a preemie, to begin with. That meant oxygen at first and, after that, special checkups. And her early months were bumpy. She had jaundice; she had roseola; she had colic. She had a heart murmur. Things that I can now see distracted us—especially with the One Chance Policy, we were focused on her health to the exclusion of all else. For the Netted, it was different, of course, but for us Surplus, the limit was one pregnancy per couple, and Eleanor was just out of jail. Outside the house, she had a DroneMinder tracking her every move; the message was clear. She was not getting away with anything.

And in any case, we loved Gwen and would never have wanted to replace her, worried though we were that she was delicate—that she might never consume the way she needed to, the way we all needed to. Not that charges of underconsumption couldn’t be fought in the courts. This was AutoAmerica, after all. For all the changes wrought by AI and Automation—now rolled up with the internet into the iBurrito we called Aunt Nettie—we did still have a Constitution. And if anyone could defend what was left of our rights, it was our own fierce Eleanor, of whom even the platoons of Canada geese who patrolled our neighborhood—the pit bulls, one might say, of the waddling world—were afraid. But as Eleanor’s incarceration brought home, these battles had a price, and in the meanwhile, even worrying and weighing the options distracted us from realizing other things—things we might have noticed a bit earlier, had Gwen had a sibling. It is so hard for a new parent to imagine a child any different from the one he or she has—children do so have their own gravity. They are their own normal.

And so it is only now that we can see there were signs. All children take what’s in their crib and throw it, for example. It is universal. But Gwen threw her stuffed animals straight through her bedroom doorway. They shot out, never so much as grazing the door frame, and they always hit the wall of the staircase across from her bedroom at a certain spot, with the precise force they needed to bounce forward and drop clean down to the bottom of the stairwell. Was she maybe two when she did this? Not even, although she was already a southpaw. And already she seemed to have unusually long arms and long fingers—or so I remember remarking one day, not that Eleanor and I had so many babies on which to base our comparison. Ours was just an impression. But it was a strong impression. Her fingers were long. I remember, too, having to round up a veritable menagerie on the landing before I could start up the stairs. The stuffed hippo, the stuffed tiger, the three or four stuffed dogs, the stuffed orca and toucan and platypus and turtle—I gathered them all into my arms like the storybook zookeeper of some peaceable kingdom. It was as if I, too, ought by rights to have been made of plush. Of course, our house was automated—as all Surplus houses were required to be, by law—and the animals could easily have been clear-floated. All I had to do was say the word and the HouseBots would emerge from their closets, their green appendages poised to help. Clear-float now? Aren’t those animals in your way? And, We can roll’n’clear if you’d prefer. You have a choice. You always have a choice—the choice business being a new feature of the program. A bit of cyber-ingratiation, you might say, to balance its more habitual cyber-intimidation. If you trip, it will be your own fault, for example. And, Do note that your choice is on the record. Nothing is being hidden from you. Your choice is on the record. Meaning that I was losing Living Points every time—Living Points being something like what we used to call brownie points when I was growing up, except that these were more critical than money for everything from getting a loan to getting a plane ticket to getting Gwen into Net U one day, should we dream of doing that—a goal that people said involved tens of thousands, or maybe even hundreds of thousands, of points.

But I picked the animals up myself anyway—as did Eleanor, when it was she who came upon them, her silver hair and black eyes shining—and all because we wanted to dump the animals into Gwen’s crib ourselves and hear her quick cresting laughter as she immediately set about hurling them again. Everything was a game to her, a most wonderful, loving, endless game. Her spy-eyes lit up with mischief; her tea-brown cheeks flushed the hot orange pink you see on the underside of clouds at sunset. Often she laughed so hard, she fell as she threw—plopping down on her soft bottom but grabbing the crib rails so hard as she scrambled back up that the whole crib shook. Was this the delicate newborn we had once so anxiously tended? Now breathtakingly robust—indestructible, it seemed—she wore an old-time soft yellow blanket sleeper with attached feet and bunny ears, a hand-knit, extra-warm version of a suit Eleanor remembered from her own childhood. None of this baby-zone heating over Gwen’s crib, in other words. She hardly seemed to need zone-heat in any case, having learned so early to blow on her hands if they were cold and to cuddle with us, if she needed to, for warmth. Indeed, we were all given to cuddling, and we all wore sweaters, too, to avoid turning on the zone-heat, for which we were constantly house-scolded. Don’t you find it a bit chilly? Why not choose to turn on the zone-heat? You’ll be more comfortable—Eleanor, especially. Don’t you find it a bit chilly?

But we ignored it. For this was how the AutoHouse started, wasn’t it, with thermostats that sent to Aunt Nettie first data, then videos? Then came DroneDeliverers and FridgeStockers, KidTrackers and RoboSitters, ElderHelpers and YardBots, all of which reported to Aunt Nettie as dutifully as any spy network—recording our steps, our pictures, our relationships, and (back when we soon-to-be-Surplus still had them) our careers. And she, in turn, took what she knew and applied it—even proffering, along the way, solace and advice. Indeed, in the early days of Automation, I myself brought up AskAuntNettie more often than I care to recall and can still remember her consoling voice as she volunteered I’m here and insisted I want to hear everything and reassured me Of course you feel that way, Grant, how could you not? You’re only human.

I did laugh at that You’re only human.

Still I found not only that part of me responded to the words, but that it responded deeply, that it listened gratefully as Aunt Nettie advanced some surprisingly useful advice on a range of subjects, including the many—I hadn’t realized how many—for which noble Eleanor had no time. Would someone like me, whose mother had had him with WhoNeedsThemMen, have trouble knowing how to be a father, for example? The answer to which was that, given what men could be, I might in fact be better off without a role model anyway. Or how about: Did someone like me really need to own both black and brown shoes now that I was no longer teaching? The answer to which was yes, if I cared about social acceptance, which yes, my data showed that I did, underneath, and which, really, was just as well—correlated as such concern was with mental health, especially among Unretrainables such as, yes, she had heard I now was.

Today Aunt Nettie would no doubt use the term “Surplus”—“Unretrainables” having been aggregated with “Unemployables” such as the elderly for the purposes of administering our Basic Incomes. But Unretrainables were in fact different. Unretrainables were people like me, with discontinued professions. Factory workers, drivers, and customer service representatives, in the beginning—joined, as Aunt Nettie grew by breathtaking leap after leap more capable, by assorted doctors, lawyers, teachers, accountants. Professors. Programmers. Brokers. And, as Aunt Nettie assumed an ever greater role in government: Staffers. Poll workers. Selectmen. Auditors. Ombudsmen. Judges. It goes without saying that not all the Unretrainables were coppertoned, like me. A great many were angelfair. But it was hard not to notice that the Unretrainables did somehow include everyone coppertoned, as well as everyone spy-eyed, like Eleanor, and everyone odd-bodied, too, not to say the odd-godded—Muslims, for example. It was, one had to say, quite a coincidence that the underclass looked as it did; groups like AutoAmericans Against Apartheid called it the New Segregation.

And what about meditation? I asked Aunt Nettie once. Would that help me tame certain mannerisms I had developed since my work was discontinued? The answer to which was, again, yes, and here was a link to get me started, although she thought I might also just try sitting on my hands.

Like others, I had allowed Aunt Nettie to keep my calendar back in the days when, as the young head of an English as a second language program, I still had immigrants to teach and obligations to juggle. This was some time ago, now—back before Ship’EmBack. But like others, then, I had also allowed Aunt Nettie to email people on my behalf, checking the “mimic your voice” option and marveling at just how perfectly she could replicate my tics of phrasing. She had even captured a certain formality I had picked up from my mother—a holdover from her days as a Caribbean schoolmarm—because I had, in my youthful diligence, sent so many thousands of emails. Indeed, Aunt Nettie had so much data on me that not even Eleanor could tell it was not I who had composed the messages she received from my account. And like others, too, I had taken advantage of the EZ tools offered to me and trained Aunt Nettie to write my lessons and my syllabi—even to generate sample sentences and punny jokes. Indeed, I trained her so well that I had more than once observed that an avatar could now run the class.

As for why I did these things—I generally did them, I see now, because I appreciated some associated convenience, which was to say because I could be, as my mother liked to say, lazy as a rock at the bottom of a hill. And as for the resulting reality, was it not disconcertingly like the sea level rise and heat and wind we knew, long ago, would come with climate change but have since come to call normal? No one would have willfully chosen the stranding of whole office parks and schools and neighborhoods by the flooding we saw now. No one would have willfully chosen the generating of the places we called marooned places, just as no one would have chosen the extinction of frogs and of polar bears, or the decimation of our pine and spruce forests by the explosion in the number of bark beetles. And yet it was something we humans did finally choose. After all, it was not the earth that chose it, or any other creature. It was we who made our world what it was. It was we who were responsible.

And who else was to blame that we Surplus were now required by law to have AutoHouses, which were for the most part AutoHouseboats, collected into Flotsam Towns? Happily, house video surveillance did end. We did at least now have—thanks to the herculean efforts of Eleanor and her legal team—an A/V data shutoff to which you could resort. It wasn’t the default. To get at it you had to remove a wall panel with a special screwdriver for which you had to send away, and which was always on backorder; I do think they made about a dozen a year. Then you had to rewire the thing yourself, and it goes without saying that absolutely nothing was labeled. But still, the shutoff was there.

As for the price of victory—well, let us just say that it was only after some years that we beheld Gwen and finally had the bandwidth to think what we should have thought all along. Namely: How extraordinary.

I had bought Gwen a pink Spalding ball at an underground yard sale and seen how she laughed as she threw it at my nose. I had seen how she laughed, too, when I found her a tiny baseball glove, at another underground sale. I had seen her put it on her head like a hat. I had seen her talk to the glove and sleep with it under her pillow. And as she grew older, I had seen how she could throw an apple smack into the mouth of a Halloween scarecrow from clear across a field. She threw a kid’s handphone back to him through the window of a moving AutoLyft. She hammered a nail into a pole by throwing a rock at it from across the street.

Was it not uncanny? We called it her gift. And sometimes, when Eleanor and I were talking, just the two of us, we reached back into old-time thinking and parlance and asked, Is this what people meant when they said something was God-given? Not that we were religious—hardly. And every child is humbling in a way that was hard even for old-time people to express—hard, that is, even for people who had not been brought up to seek truth in big data and algorithms but in things like books. Indeed, Gwen, too, was much more than her gift. She, too, was an embodiment of that tornado that is girlhood—that glorious whirlwind of silliness and sophistication that seems to dance and spin and touch down just exactly where it likes.

Yet Gwen’s particular gift awed us in a special way. Was there not something miraculous about it—this ability? This talent? This knack? This utterly useless aptitude? Where did it come from? What was its purpose? We were, as I said, in awe. And maybe that was why we used that phrase, “God-given”—a phrase whose meaning we did not quite know, but that meant, we understood, beyond us. Beyond our ken. Beyond our grasp. Beyond human understanding, and beyond inhuman understanding, too. Beyond Aunt Nettie. And as a father, all I wanted was to see her, in all her giftedness and idiosyncratic humanity, bloom.

Praise

“Intricately imagined . . . The Resisters is a book that grows directly out of the soil of our current political moment.” The New York Times Book Review

“The magic of [The Resisters] is that, amid a dark and cautionary tale, there’s a story also filled with electricity and humor—and baseball. . . . [A] great gift.” The Washington Post

“Sweeping, subversive. . . . Brilliant. . . . [The Resisters] finds in baseball a compelling metaphor for a country that will always have something to prove.”Entertainment Weekly
 
“A dystopia so chillingly plausible that an entire review could be spent simply describing its components. . . . Marvelous.”  —The Boston Globe
 
“[An] inspired vision. . . . In The Resisters, [Jen] offers hope that, after a long, misbegotten seventh-inning stretch, Americans of the near future will be eager to once again play ball and take up the hard work of participatory democracy.” —NPR

“Jen writes electric, entertaining sentences. . . . In sport, Jen finds a metaphor for what it is to be human.” Bookforum
 
“An entertaining ride in a new yet familiar world. . . . Empowering.” Minneapolis Star Tribune
 
“Triumphantly original . . . a 1984 for our time. . . . Don’t dare call this fantasy or science fiction. This is a world all too terrifying, dangerous and real.” Newsday
 
“Sweeping, subversive. . . . Brilliant. . . . As Jen reveals how America became AutoAmerica, one seemingly tiny but cumulatively fatal development at a time, she finds in baseball a compelling metaphor for a country that will always have something to prove.” Entertainment Weekly
 
“Jen masterfully builds her dystopian world, depicting how easily such a change can creep over a populace too ready to trade liberty for convenience . . . At heart, a story about love, family, and the core values of freedom and independence.” Nashville Scene
 
“Clever . . . So meaningful, and so disquieting . . . The Resisters raises a host of provocative questions about what a ruthless combination of omnipresent technology and economic inequality might look like. George Orwell would be proud. And scared.” Shelf Awareness
  
“Astutely realized and unnervingly possible . . . Jen masterfully entwines shrewd mischief, knowing compassion, and profound social critique in a suspenseful tale encompassing baseball ardor, family love, newly insidious forms of racism and tyranny, and a wily and righteous resistance movement.”Booklist (starred review)
 
“A dire tale of nonconformity in a world gone mad.” Library Journal (starred review)
 
“Subtle dystopian fiction . . . beautifully crafted and slyly unsettling. . . . The juxtaposition of America’s pastime and the AI-enabled surveillance state Jen presents here is brilliant.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
 
“[A] shrewd and provocative near-future novel. . . . [Jen’s] intelligence and control shine through in a chilling portrait of the casual acceptance of totalitarianism.” Publishers Weekly

The Resisters is palpably loving, smart, funny and desperately unsettling. The novel should be required reading for the country, both as a cautionary tale and because it is a stone-cold masterpiece. This is Gish Jen’s moment. She has pitched a perfect game.” —Ann Patchett, author of The Dutch House
 
“An absolute joy . . . I finished The Resisters with a tear in my eye and a smile on my face. Who could ask for a better combo? Gish Jen has written a one-of-a-kind book with great characters—especially Eleanor, who is the heart of the story—and a warm heart. Remind Ms. Jen that the great Ernie Banks said, ‘Hey, guys, let’s play two!’ Which is my way of saying I wouldn’t mind a sequel. Probably won’t happen, but a guy can hope. P.S. This lady knows her baseball.” —Stephen King, author of The Institute

“Can there be a dystopian novel of lightness, delicacy and charm? In which baseball, our subtle, determined summer game, is the means of resistance against the dehumanizing overlords? In which a girl who pitches like Satchel Paige is the blue-haired hero? Gish Jen says, Yes! And she is right! Where there is baseball, there is hope. And beautiful prose, too.” —Cathleen Schine, author of The Grammarians
 
“Inventive, funny, and tender, The Resisters is about family, baseball, and the future—but more than anything, it is about freedom, and it is about us—here, now.” —Allegra Goodman, author of The Chalk Artist

“Brilliant . . . A heartbreaking novel with the sensitivity, emotional range, and prophetic power of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale.” —Jean Kwok, author of Searching for Sylvie Lee

“I LOVE this novel as much as I fear the future Gish Jen has conjured in it. In this anything but brave new world, baseball is what survives and reminds us of our humanity, and a girl’s golden arm forms the kernel of resistance. What an enchanting conceit! Gish Jen has hit a grand slam.” —Jane Leavy, author of The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World he Created

Media

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