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Bibliophilic Monologues

Wither (Chemical Garden)

Wither (Chemical Garden) - Lauren DeStefano Considering the subject and the plot of Wither, comparisons with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is, in my opinion, inevitable. Parallels will be drawn between the two books by readers who have read both books and perhaps the reaction to Wither will be coloured a bit by their exposure to the much acclaimed Handmaid’s Tale.Let’s talk about the good stuff first. The relationships between the three girls is one of the main joys of the book. Their interactions are compelling and the fact that it develops gradually rather than appearing as a matter of fact is one of the strongest points of the novel. Also, the flow of the prose is natural, there are no technical mishmashes that interferes with the reading experience. The narrative is compelling and the Rhine and the characters interesting enough that they provoke you into caring for them.That said, what prevented me from enjoying the book thoroughly is the inconsistencies in the plot. As I said at the beginning, I have read The Handmaid’s Tale and the beginning to Wither is strongly reminiscent of it. However, there are such gaping holes in logic and reason that even when I was reading the book, I was asking these questions and not finding any answers to them. Let me elaborate. In the world in which Rhine lives, girls have a life expectancy of 20 years while guys live for 25. As such, the girls are require to reproduce earlier (one of the brides is 13… and that’s just disturbing). There are the “first generations” who do not suffer from short life expectancy and on whose shoulders the charge to find a cure for this “virus” rests. With me, so far? Okay. This obviously means that the human race is in trouble of extinction or we have become something like the “r-type” organisms as they are known in Biology. You know, like the weeds, that spring forth, die and then repeat in short life cycles? Except this does not compute because the r-type organisms reach reproductive age way faster than humans beings do. In the book, there is much talk about “orphans” because obviously their parents die but I have to wonder, why would people who are only going to live 20 and 25 years bother to have babies? I mean, the common people, not the wealthy ones. If they are going to succumb to the virus, why would they leave behind progeny to suffer when they are gone? I don’t understand that. Unless evolution took place and women started reproducing at ten – even then, why would they trade their brief youth and life for motherhood? There’s no logic to it.And the novel, unfortunately, does not answer these questions. It does not in a clear way, spend any time building up the dystopian world it has created for the purpose of the story. How can there be so many people (as Rhine mentions once and again) when most of them are dying?And then let’s talk about the brides. Where in The Handmaid’s Tale, there’s a certain detachment the protagonist cultivates from herself, from her body because she cannot remain inside her body when it’s being violated by the man who owns her, Rhine in Wither has it much easier. Much, much easier. She has a “husband,” wealth, privilege, all the accoutrements (and trappings) of an ideal life. Except for “freedom.” The husband “loves” her and she might even love him back if she would give herself a chance to do so. But then there’s Gabriel, who unfortunately, is not developed enough as a character to warrant much comment. Linden is a better character at this point than Gabriel.I kept on questioning why, when Rhine was out with Linden in public, could she not simply leave? What was stopping her from leaving then and there? There’s no mention of women not having the same rights as men so I presumed that they had the same rights and if they do, in that world, why could she not simply go? Leave? If the Gatherers (the girl kidnappers) do as they do in the dark or resort to trickery, it means that what they are doing is illegal – otherwise they wouldn’t need the veil of trickery. So, why doesn’t Rhine simply go to the police and demand that she’s let go? Or get attention of the authorities in some way? Why?Is it because of Housemaster Vaughn? Who is not developed much either. He has a room in the basement where he experiments on the dead bodies of the wives before Rhine and her coterie. He is evil – his motivations are unknown – and he is The Enemy. It just…seems a bit like relying too much on stereotypes to create characters instead of doing so yourself.And honestly, they escape way too easily. I think that’s the sticking point. It’s way too easy for them. So easy that it’s hard to believe and that compromises the integrity of the entire story.The series has a lot of potential. There is still Rowan to find. Still to see whether Rhine has any “cure” in her from her heterochromatic eyes. And considering that this is a debut novel, I am going to say that the potential is felt and I will read the preceding books in the series. As a reader, I would like it, however, if the author were to expand more time and words in developing to a greater degree the characters she created and the world they are living in. If she could answer some of the questions, work out the inconsistencies, consider logicality and reasoning, I’m sure her novels will much stronger for that.