Sometime in the not so distant future, government has found a way to ensure that every individual is contributing to the gross national product, otherwise, they are no longer needed to society. If an individual has failed to have children, or do something economically important in their jobs, or be deeply loved in a romantic way by another, by the time they reach age 50 (for women) or 60 (for men) they are deemed dispensable and sent to The Unit.
The Unit is described by one character in the book as a "luxury slaughterhouse." Individuals who go there live in comfortable circumstances but they are subjected to various physical and psychological testing up to and including organ donation.
On her fiftieth birthday, Dorrit, filled with fear and grief goes to live in the unit. Upon her arrival, she is confronted with her impending death as well as surprised that for the first time in her life she becomes part of an interdependent network of people. And she falls in love. The consequences of this are surprising and far reaching and ultimately, devastating to the reader.
From the moment I picked The Unit up, I did not want to put it down. How could there be such a society that would decide who was needed and who was not? And how cruel to force them to donate their organs!! Additionally, I was so surprised by how everything seemed really nice from the fine food to the nice living conditions, but really it was barbaric the way they had to undergo so much medical testing against their will.
The themes this book explores are incredibly rich. From which should be valued more? The creation of art or the creation of life? What does it mean to have a life? What makes a person needed or gives them value and who should get to decide that?
I absolutely felt for Dorrit. I felt her grief and her confusion. I kept wishing there was a way she and her friends could be saved. I felt the injustice of finally finding people to love only because you were all considered worthless in your personhood, and sentenced to death. Much the same way Dorrit was often lulled into complacency or thinking things weren't so bad, I as too, until another horror was visited on The Unit.
I tore through this book, needing to know what was going to happen (or how it was going to happen). I couldn't help but cry while reading and I finished longing to talk with someone about all the book was about. So yes, this one would make a great book club pick!
To give you an idea of the sort of gut-wrenching things included in the book:
I wanted to live a proper life with deep interwoven relationships for better or worse, which only death could separate. I wanted to feel real, to feel part of things, and to be honest I couldn't give a s--- whether it was dignified or respectable or whether it cost the taxpayer a whole lot of money.
I'd like to include much more to that passage but it would be spoilery.
The Unit was a gripping, heartwrenching, thought provoking read. I won't soon forget it.
Things You Might Want to Know: there is some sex, and a wee bit of language.
The Unit is published by Other Press and available now.