In American author Solomon RiversThe previous two novels, themes of memory and repression, shaped poignant science fiction narratives. Now it comes Painful, a gothic techno-thriller in which the trauma of the past is stopped with defiance and a thirst for understanding, embodied by an electrifying young hero.
Vern is 15 years old and heavily pregnant when she escapes from an American cult known as the Blessed Acres of Cain. Hidden in the woods, she gives birth to twins named Howling and Feral, and spends the next four years there, hunting and gathering, dressing her babies in animal skins, and sleeping in makeshift shelters.
Vern has an abrasive and masochistic streak. Determined to “make every moment of her life a rebellion,” she is also bold, patient, intelligent as fire, which is good because she faces so many, including the debilitatingly poor vision, the albinism that makes her skin hypersensitive and “ghosts”. – fearsome hallucinations that have followed her from the place of worship. Also behind her is someone whom she calls “the demon”, with the intention of scaring her from hiding with macabre offerings dressed in baby clothes.
Vern becomes a half animal out there, all instinct and need. Something else is moving deep inside her too: a foreign body that she feels has to do with the regular injections of vitamins that are given in the compound. It gives her superhuman strength and the ability to heal overnight, and she feels invincible until an exoskeleton begins to sprout and pain plagues her. Eventually, fears for her health drive Vern’s little family out of the forest, forcing her to acquire new skills in search of answers.
When it comes to Cainland, Vern realizes that his founding motives had some merit, allowing black people to help each other. She is unable to apply this same nuanced view to life in the outside world. “The main freedoms this nation protected were to possess and annihilate,” he declares. Fortunately, he soon finds another sanctuary, and with it the healing care of a Native American woman.
A poignant sense of epic animates this surprising novel. All that remains of Vern’s faith is rooted in the vastness of life, and when he meets his nemesis, it stands to reason that he turns out to be a creature “so threatening that being with her is like falling.”
This ability is reflected in the wide range of Painfultimely concerns. It’s about escape, self-acceptance, and queer love. It is about genocide and exploitation of black bodies, self-deception and endemic corruption, motherhood and inheritance. His frame of reference is generous; somehow it’s clearly ingrained in Afrofuturism, due a lot to Octavia Butler, but it also agrees to Giovanni’s room, Robin Hood and the folklore of multiple cultures.
Sounds a lot? It is, and you’re sure to find strange material here, including a motel room orgy attended by a couple of ghosts. And yet Solomon combines his ambition with a propelling plot whose intense conviction and sheer vitality make up for any shaky logic when it comes to colonizing mushrooms and resurrections.
As for memory, making sure past mistakes aren’t forgotten isn’t enough for Vern, who, while still a child at the end of the novel, has taken over the adrenaline, anger, and appetite that they drive it. Solomon’s audacity lies in imagining at least some of those mistakes not only remembered but corrected, and in dreaming of powers powerful enough to do so.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism