Saturday, February 1, 2014

Matched by Ally Condle (or Is There Such Thing as Utopia?)

Matched (Matched Trilogy Series #1)  In the author discussion following dystopian novel that I recently read the author talked how boring a utopian novel would mean.   Ally Condle's Matched, the first book in a trilogy, begins as a utopia.  The society is populated by seemingly perfect two-parent, two-children families.  No one is homeless or unemployed.  Everyone is well fed in perfect accordance with their individual nutritional needs.   Then the cracks in the seemingly perfect facade begin to show.  All of this made me wonder what a true utopia would look like, if it is even possible for humans, as flawed as we are, to really imagine a utopia beyond the vague of idea of heaven.  Anything we come up with is bound to be riddled with errors, many of which we may not be able to predict.

The world in which Cassia lives seems ideal.  One way the powers that be, here known as the Society, have made such a seemingly ideal world, is by eliminating most choices.  Somehow the Society has managed to make the elimination of choice not only seem like a good thing, but something that is perfect, even special.  Couples are matched with their ideal mate.  It is a special event, complete with flowing gowns and cake.  When you think about it, it isn't so different from an arranged marriage which has been the norm in human history far longer than love matches.  One might even say that the Society's matches are better than the traditional arranged marriage since instead of treating marriage as a business merger where powerful families are united, the Society aims to produce a perfect society with happy citizens.  Citizens are likely to be happier if they have happy marriages and happy families so the Society takes it jobs very seriously. 

For her part, Cassia is thrilled when she is matched with her long time friend, Xander.  She eagerly reviews the material on her microcard, a device containing details about her match's likes, dislikes, etcetera.  But then just for a moment, another face appears on her microcard.  Cassia is not rebel.  She doesn't ask many questions.  She is happy in her utopian world.  Still, the brief picture of this other boy, of this other possibility for her future, upends Cassia's life.  Slowly but surely, her perfect world starts to look more like a cage.

Matched was intriguing.  It was a bit slow going in the first half but picked up later on.  I think what intrigued me most was the picture of utopia it presented.  Every aspect of life was nearly perfectly calibrated and controlled.  For instance, music, painting, and poetry have been distilled down to the "100 best" of all time, and the rest destroyed.  The list of the 100 best are not revealed but you can bet there are no protest songs, suggestive paintings or subversive poems in the mix.  People don't know how to write - literally.  They only know how to type.  When Cassia writes a letter to her grandfather she does so by cutting and pasting text from other writing samples.  It is a clever and effective way to discourage people from thinking too hard about anything, let alone rebellion

I am not sure if I will read the next two books in the series.  While I enjoyed Matched I'm not sure if I care enough to continue, especially when my to-be-read pile is already overflowing.  Still, it made me think, and that's always a good sign of a good book.

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