‘The Divers’ Game’ review: Jesse Ball’s dystopia is frighteningly believable

"The Divers' Game" by Jesse Ball.  Photo Credit: Ecco Press; James Foster

The author’s affecting new novel is uncomfortably familiar, especially given its correlation to President Donald Trump’s divisive rhetoric about refugees over the past three years.

"The Divers' Game" by Jesse Ball. 
"The Divers’ Game" by Jesse Ball.  Photo Credit: Badal Patel

Dystopian fiction resonates when we feel the shadow of our own society’s failings creeping coldly off the page. Jesse Ball’s affecting new novel, “The Divers’ Game,” is uncomfortably familiar, especially given its correlation to President Donald Trump’s divisive rhetoric about refugees over the past three years.

In Ball’s world, “the famous influx of refugees” has “forced” society to change. Some lives are worth more than others. The émigrés, or quads, are made to live in walled settlements outside city limits. They have no legal rights and their neighborhoods have no laws. The dominant, city-dwelling pats carry gas masks and gas canisters that they may use to kill quads — for any reason or for no reason at all — whenever they come across them.

The grisly setup yields almost fable-like episodes told through the eyes of children, both quads and pats, inhabiting this divided world. They are forced to confront the dichotomy between their desire for companionship and the dangers of solitude; their burgeoning individualism and the expectations of society; their innate sense of justice and the rules they have been bequeathed.

Ball can be obliquely philosophical, but generally this is blunt stuff presented clearly and poignantly. The book concludes with a letter from a woman to her husband. She can no longer abide a world “maintained by a violence so complete, it is like air.” Her realization, and the stories that precede it, should certainly make you question what kind of world we are preparing for the generations to come.

Cory Oldweiler