TW for discussion of the pandemic

The weirdest thing about Sarah Pinkser’s book A Song for a New Day is that it was written last year but reads like it’s about this year. The plot follows two paths and characters, beginning with musician Luce Cannon. Let’s have a moment of appreciation for that name. I love it. Luce is a musician about to play her first big stadium gig when terrorism shuts the world down. She still plays, earning her the dubious honour of being the last known musician to play a live show in the future that follows.

Next, we meet Rosemary Laws, years into the digital future, and from her we understand a scarring pox virus hits soon after the bombs, and life changes drastically. The world goes into lockdown and everyone isolates. School goes digital, dating goes virtual, concerts become a virtual, online event, usually through the StageHolo venue, a link in the monster Superwally conglomerate which monopolizes the future. Packages are delivered by drones and thanks to virtual reality tech, life goes on from isolation.

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This section of the book was enormously comforting to read from my own lockdown and isolation. Many of us are worried about how life is going to look post-pandemic and here is an easily believable future already imagined for us. We survive, and it isn’t that bad at all.

Except.

Sigh.

It turns out that the Superwally’s of the world were making a little too much money off of this new status quo, so much so that they developed a vested interest in keeping people isolated and using their gear. Twenty or so years on, there are congregation laws that dictate people aren’t allowed to meet up in any numbers but there hasn’t been any outbreaks or terrorism in a long time. Luce is heavy into an underground scene of speak-easy like illegal concerts where people attend to experience live music, elements of which never quite translated to the virtual space. The artists chafe against StageHolo’s monopoly of the music industry.

Meanwhile, Rosemary has been hired by StageHolo as a talent scout and is venturing outside her family bubble and meeting people in the real world for the first time, which both terrifies and exhilarates her. She’s about to find out that her safe digital world might be an economic prison fabricated with methods she doesn’t agree with.

This book is a good read, especially from a mid-pandemic perspective. I like that it gave me hope and rang true while also projecting a few cautionary elements that are based in corporate nature. I thought a lot about my musician friends, especially the ones who have been hosting facebook live concerts since March, while I read this book, but I also thought about my own situation.

As a writer, I can handle a degree of isolation without my art suffering for it (unlike Luce). As a mother of young children living in eastern Canada, I’m largely left out of the wider social world of writing conventions, so when conventions went online, I felt like a kid in a candy store. Some aspects of this digital world have far-reaching benefits and I’m not in a place to accept their downsides without a fight. Therefore, the second half of this book made me as grumpy as the first half comforted me. People in similar situations, or people who have disabilities that keep them isolated, may feel the same.

Ultimately, the story wins over my own moodiness. If your mental health is in a place where you can read about a pandemic, do yourself a favor and grab this book. 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

 

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