Hardcover, 339 pagesPublished July 10th 2018 by Henry Holt and Co.
In this debut set in near future NYC—where lives last 300 years and the pursuit of immortality is all-consuming—Lea must choose between her estranged father and her chance to live forever.
Lea Kirino is a “Lifer,” which means that a roll of the genetic dice has given her the potential to live forever—if she does everything right. And Lea is an overachiever. She’s a successful trader on the New York exchange—where instead of stocks, human organs are now bought and sold—she has a beautiful apartment, and a fiancé who rivals her in genetic perfection. And with the right balance of HealthTech™, rigorous juicing, and low-impact exercise, she might never die.
But Lea’s perfect life is turned upside down when she spots her estranged father on a crowded sidewalk. His return marks the beginning of her downfall as she is drawn into his mysterious world of the Suicide Club, a network of powerful individuals and rebels who reject society’s pursuit of immortality, and instead chose to live—and die—on their own terms. In this future world, death is not only taboo; it’s also highly illegal. Soon Lea is forced to choose between a sanitized immortal existence and a short, bittersweet time with a man she has never really known, but who is the only family she has left in the world.
Everything started going wrong after the Second Wave…They’d had the lifespan tests and predictive treatments for decades…but this was something different. The Second Wave, it was dubbed, when a whole raft of new Medtech measures were approved for mass distribution: first-generation SmartBloodTM, an early prototype of what would later become DiamondSkinTM, the first truly functional replacements. And with the new technologies, a whole host of new Directives, aimed at keeping the Ministry’s biggest investments—lifers—safe and healthy. The Second Wave. There would be immortals by the Third.
Rachel Heng’s Suicide Club re-imagines a near-future America as a place where medical advancements have made immortality possible and where class lines are now redrawn by a new form of classism and ageism: the estimated length of your lifespan. Here, people are separated into groups, “lifers” and “sub-100s,” those who have the potential to live forever and those who do not. It’s a fresh and unique way to envision a new version of a system that we’re already so familiar with and to see it play out in a futurist narrative, but this novel fell flat for me in more ways than one.
Lea Kirino is a “lifer” who lives life by the rules. She maintains an ultra-healthy lifestyle to upkeep her biological upgrades, has a job she’s doing well at (trading organs on a new version of Wall Street), and has the perfect lifer fiancé. But, when she sees her father, who disappeared nearly ninety years before, her entire world is turned upside down, as he unwittingly leads her to the Suicide Club—a group of individuals intent on living and dying by their own rules.
The problem with this storyline, I must first point out, is that: **SPOILER** the Suicide Club doesn’t even make an appearance until around the halfway mark of this novel, not to mention Lea doesn’t get “entangled” with them until nearly three-fourths of the way through! Really, this narrative is not centered around her “involvement” with the Suicide Club until after you wade through a couple hundred pages of fluffy writing that goes nowhere and describes nothing and her own internal struggle about her situation (troubles at work, being placed on the observation list when the government thinks she’s at risk for trying to kill herself and deciding if she really wants to be with that perfect lifer fiancé of 20 years) **END SPOILER!
Sorry lol most of that was spoiler! This is literary, character-driven fiction, sure, but the characters didn’t drive much of anything.
Heng’s Suicide Club offers up beautiful imagery, but it failed to move the story along. There are few things worse to a reader than pointless narrative that takes up space on the page simply for the sake of being pretty. I don’t know about you, but I like my narratives like I like my stilettos: pretty but still functional. But here the purple prose brimmed the pages, fluffed up like 80s hair, describing nothing that resonated or left a lasting impact. All the space of written nothingness could’ve been used to progress the actual plot. Such a wasted opportunity on the part of the author is such a source of ennui for me.
I also found all the characters in Suicide Club to be un
interesting and dull in that drained-of-color sort of way. I regularly confused the two female protagonists in my mind, because neither of their stories grabbed me and they both seemed overwhelmed by a kind of neurosis about their circumstances rather than actively trying to do something about it for much of the novel. They blended together in my mind because I wasn’t interested enough to notice or appreciate the subtle nuances of character differentiation between them—or because they hadn’t been effectively imagined and presented on the page. Either way, Suicide Club did not live up to my expectations, a real shame, because it was my first foray into anything resembling Sci Fi in quite a long while. 3 stars ***
**I received an advance-read copy of this book from the publisher, Henry Holt and Co., via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.**
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Rachel Heng is a Singaporean novelist and short story writer. Her debut novel, Suicide Club, will be published by Sceptre, Hachette (UK) and Henry Holt, Macmillan (US) in July 2018. Translation rights have also been sold in Sweden, Portugal, Italy, Czech Republic, Taiwan and China thus far. Suicide Club is available for pre-order in hardcover, e-book and audiobook on Amazon.
Rachel’s short stories have appeared in The Offing, Prairie Schooner, The Adroit Journal, the minnesota review and elsewhere. Her fiction has received a Pushcart Prize Special Mention, Prairie Schooner’s Jane Geske Award, and has been recommended by the Huffington Post. Rachel’s non-fiction has been published in AfterGLOBE and Columbia Journal of Literary Criticism.
Rachel was born and raised in Singapore. After graduating from Columbia University with a BA in Comparative Literature & Society, she spent several years working in private equity in London. She currently lives in Austin, where she is pursuing her MFA in Fiction and Screenwriting at UT Austin’s Michener Center for Writers with the generous support of the James A. Michener Fellowship.