April Read of the Month: “The Not Yet,” by Moira Crone

Review by Philip K. Jason

University of New Orleans Press. 272 pages. $15.95

Imagining a Mississippi Delta area significantly transformed by decades of ferocious hurricanes, Moira Crone takes us to a realm of islands where immortals rule and the rest live lives of aspiration or rebellion in a caste-bound, static society. Who wouldn’t want to become an Heir, a medical marvel with a replaceable designer outer body (prodermis) that keeps one looking youthful and in style? Who wouldn’t want to join the power elite and control the resources of the 22nd century United Authority (UA), its various districts and protectorates?

Who wouldn’t want to be taken care of by the administrative bureaucracies of WELLFI and WELLVAC? In Ms. Crone’s fascinating vision, at once inspired and grotesque, the health system is equivalent to the government. (Sound familiar?)

moira crone

How much room is there for new Heirs when the existing ones are immortal? How powerful is the incentive to become one when the path requires so many years of subservience and discipline and medical transformation? When the system works no better than the moral compass of its leaders?

The novel’s protagonist and narrator, 20-year old Malcolm de Lazarus, is a Not Yet. He has spent much of his life as a performer for the amusement of the Heirs. As an orphan who has been selected for Heir status, he has now approached the boundary-time for his remaking. However, something is wrong: the Trust established to maintain him – hypothetically forever – has been compromised. He sets out to determine the facts and to discover if it’s possible to restore his Trust (at once faith and funds).

Malcolm’s voyage, which moves both forward and backward (to the orphanage where he and others were raised), takes on a mythical feel while raising key philosophical questions about identity, loyalty, rules, and the limits of human wish fulfillment.

What amazes about Moira Crone’s novel is not only the boldness of the premise, but also the startling minutiae of its execution. The Not Yet transports us to several distinct geo-political subdivisions of the UA, presents a wide range of crisply individualized characters that represent different classes, and conjures up over two centuries of imagined world history that leads up to the ongoing present of 2121. Crone extrapolates from today’s biomedical research to its fulfillment and application in the future.

That said, there are some difficulties for readers to overcome.

Malcolm narrates his story as if he is telling it to his contemporaries –people who already know the caste system and the names given to its various segments; the nomenclature of the medical treatments; and the governmental and political situation. However, we – his readers from the long-gone past – are not familiar with these matters. Readers will make educated guesses, most often serviceable enough, but many will be disoriented.

Late in the novel, Ms. Crone clears up the ambiguities (including those that touch upon Malcolm’s destiny) with the use of a somewhat precious literary device, allowing readers a firmer grasp of issues and details that may have seemed hazy.

To put the issue another way, Moira Crone is true to the narrative point of view she establishes, even though that point of view sometimes makes things difficult for the reader.

The novel’s vivid details, eerie tension, and arresting vision more than compensate for the moments of confusion or disorientation, and even those experiences can be understood as working in the service of Ms. Crone’s purposes.  The future is disorienting, especially to those who haven’t yet lived it.

Moira Crone’s The Not Yet is a profound, risky, and highly idiosyncratic achievement that projects a frightening yet intriguing future focused on New Orleans and its surroundings.  This book should add substantially to her acclaim, which already includes many awards, including the 2009 Robert Penn Warren Award for overall achievement from the Fellowship of Southern Writers.


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