Miriam grows up during the Great Reckoning, an apocalyptic war that destroys nations, displaces thousands of people, and kills millions more. Later, when civilization slowly begins to function again, the nascent New Society government concludes that tribal loyalties, including familial bonds, are to blame for the Great Reckoning. As an adult, Miriam perfects a technique that helps children to forget traumatic memories, and the New Society uses it in ways she never intended to create the Age Ten Protocols. The government takes babies from their families and raises them in child care centers, then erases those memories when they turn ten years old, destroying those dangerous family ties. Now an elderly woman, Miriam writes a memoir of her extraordinary life in the new novel You Feel It Just Below the Ribs by Janina Matthewson and Jeffrey Cranor.
This book is a companion novel to Within the Wires, an audio drama podcast written by one of the writers of Welcome to Night Vale, Jeffrey Cranor, and writer and voice actor Janina Matthewson. Longtime listeners of Within the Wires will certainly find breadcrumbs of new information to chew over, as this novel provides much backstory to the world of the podcast. As a standalone novel, it is a stark dystopia that may confuse readers not aware of its extensive audio drama roots. I have listened to Within the Wires since its first episode, and as I read, I found myself preferring the podcast and the intimacy with which we get to know the characters. In this novel, the narrator is carefully writing her own memoirs in a New Society that will not publish anything too radical, so there is a substantial distance between Miriam and the reader that means we never really get to know her as a person.
However, the authors explore intriguing philosophical questions throughout the course of the novel: in a post-apocalyptic society, what lengths are too far to go in trying to prevent another worldwide war? Are family ties and tribalism truly the root of all war and conflict? Is it ethical – and if not ethical, then necessary – to erase memories and destroy families in the pursuit of peace? With Miriam as our unreliable narrator versus the New Society’s narrative, who is telling the truth? Fans of Within the Wires and new readers who are intrigued by this unique concept for a dystopian novel should check this one out. If you like the book, make sure to listen to the podcast in your favorite podcast app!
Release date: December 7, 2021
Thanks to NetGalley for the Advance Reader Copy!