by R. Lee Smith
I keep waiting for an R. Lee Smith book to disappoint me, but I’m not holding my breath. I’ve read five so far, and they all have engaged and delighted me. I am in a dilemma, though, about how to write about them. The cover of this one doesn’t help me any. The main character would not recognize herself in this portrait. A caseworker in what is essentially a concentration camp, Sarah thinks of herself as an ordinary human being just trying to do her job.
The problem is, she’s a decent human being in an inhuman setting. You see, the ‘refugees’ in Cottonwood aren’t just refugees—they’re aliens. They were rounded up and put into camps ‘for their own protection.’ Her very decency creates conflict for her and has consequences beyond her imagination.
One of the ‘bugs,’ as the aliens are called, has never given up hope for escape. Gradually Sarah is drawn to him and his dream of escape. How to maintain her humanity as she learns more and more of the inhumanity of the corporation running this camp challenges her beyond anything else. It is the inmate, labeled Sanford because of the son he is raising, who teaches her the way.