Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Futuristic Take on The Scarlet Letter

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan (Algonquin Books, 2011, 352pp.)

Set in a futuristic America ruled by the Religious Right, Jordan pens the tale of Hannah Payne, a young Texas woman who has an abortion and is convicted of murdering her unborn child. Inspired by Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Jordan’s novel is unique and inventive. People are no longer sent to prison, but instead are subjected to a process called “chroming” - a scientific procedure that turns the offender’s skin a specific color, depending on the crime committed. In our heroine’s case, she is dyed a bright, fire engine red. Struggling to stay one step ahead of vigilante groups like the Fist of Christ, Hannah’s journey takes her from a Christian halfway house run by hypocritical sadists, where inmates are subjected to bizarre group flagellation sessions, to various safe-houses. Hannah’s journey is one is one of anger, disillusionment, and ultimately, redemption, as she struggles to come to terms with her situation. While liberals and moderates will find When She Woke entertaining, I would not recommend it to the politically conservative, as they may find Jordan’s depiction of Christians offensive.

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