Lacking Joy: Pandemic and Abandonment in Laura van den Berg’s Find Me

novel, Laura van den Berg, writing, reading, fiction, dystopia, pandemic, abandonment, female character

If Lewis Carroll’s Alice was plucked from Wonderland and deposited into a post-pandemic, near future America, then you would have the story of Joy Jones in Laura van den Berg’s first novel, Find Me. Tricks, labyrinths, indecision, and absurdity plague Joy’s life. Abandoned by her mother, she was raised in a series of foster homes and orphanages. As a young adult, she self-medicated on stolen cough syrup from the grocery store she worked at until the pandemic.

It is during this event that Joy realizes the deadly disease that overtakes humanity does not affect her. For some unknown reason, she is immune. There are others that are immune too, and they are all gathered together by vague authority figures at a hospital researching a cure. It is the first time in Joy’s life that she is special and wanted.

Like Wonderland, however, the hospital harbors secrets and false appearances. As the situation begins to deteriorate, Joy pines for the mother she never knew. Eventually, circumstances prompt Joy to leave. She begins a dreamlike search for her mother across eastern America, where she will find the white rabbit and attempt to escape several appealing but dangerous traps.

Laura van den Berg’s novel is lyrical and disturbing. Like so many other literary authors venturing into the post-apocalyptic genre, the danger of a deteriorated world only acts as a convenient backdrop to the main story. There is a great deal of danger to be found in Joy’s personal life, which was much more enthralling than the details of the pandemic. Still, I would recommend this book for its wistful writing and its unpredictability.

Laura van den Berg is also the author of three collections of short stories titled What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, There Will Be No More Good Nights Without Good Nights, and The Isle of YouthOther works have appeared in Conjunctions, The Kenyon Review, American Short Fiction, Ploughshares, Glimmer Train, One Story, and have been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Mystery Stories, The O. Henry Prize Stories, The Best American Nonrequired Reading, and the Pushcart Prize XXIV.



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