An Eye for Dark Places
An appreciative reading of An Eye for Dark Places demands the willing suspension
of disbelief that Samuel Taylor Coleridge called for in Biographia Literaria (1817).
Having once transcended the credibility barrier, readers who value such novels as
Ursula K. Le Gum’s A Wizard of Earthsea (1968) and Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea (1990), Doris Lessing’s Canopus in Argus series of the 1980’s, and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) are ready for the apocalyptic adventure Norma Marder has concocted.
Her story explores the midlife concerns of a wife, bored with her loveless marriage, and mother, faced with the permanent departure of her children from home. Sephony feels disconfirmed in her marriage. Her first independent act—studying ancient history—alienates her from her family.
Upper-middle-class and conventional in many ways, Sephony lives a generation or two beyond the last years of the twentieth century. She pilots her own futuristic flying machine, commuting between the farm where she lives with her family and graduate school in London, half an hour’s flying time away, where she is working toward a degree in ancient history. Her marriage, a quarter-century old, was passionless from the start. It shows every Sign of continuing for no better reason than that it has endured this long.
Genuine passion once consumed Sephony, but Aaron, her first love, did not pass muster with her well-to-do parents. They knew that his great-grandparents had been exposed during some long- past cataclysm in Norwich to minoxine, whose genetic side effects they feared would affect his offspring. Ever the compliant daughter, Sephony did her parents’ bidding, turned from Aaron, and married the more acceptable Marek, a humorless, passionless engineer with little sensitivity and less imagination. Sephony and Marek occupy the same physical space; the mental space they inhabit is in different continents—or should one say “hemispheres”?
Early in the novel, Sephony is severely stressed. Her university work presses; important examinations loom. She takes the great risk of turning the “brainer,” to which she attaches herself, to a dangerous calibration of four in a desperate effort to enhance her learning speed. A minor emotional breakdown ensues.
In An Eye for Dark Places Marder shapes a world of futuristic trappings: brainers, hovercraft, memory bands, robots, currency cards. This is a world of Triangle-mandated space migration, one in which unions between two people are renewed every seven years or, at the wish of either, “severed,” as the operant parlance antiseptically calls divorce.
Great Britain has become a Huxleyan jumble of genetically engineered humans including Dulls, whose fulfillment comes from performing lifetimes of repetitive, menial tasks, and Bristers, brighter than the Dulls but far from independent, always traveling in groups and, like the Chinese, limited to having one child per couple. Their labors are supplemented by the services of robots, sparking memories of Karel Capek’s R. U. R. (pr. 1921, with Josef Capek; English translation, 1923).
Sephony’s brave new world is administered by the Triangle, a lurking, totalitarian oligarchy, an overpower that handles regulation better than maintenance: The infrastructure it oversees is disintegrating. Marder establishes a despairing tone on page 1, where birds limp and government billboards peel.
Seeking some escape from her unrewarding routine, Sephony drags an unenthusiastic Marek to a retreat run by Reb Nacht, a rabbi with mystical leanings whose sessions draw the disenchanted. This is an early attempt of Sephony to seize more than life now offers her. Little can she foretell what Fate is about to toss upon her path.
As she works in her kitchen, preparing dinner for a pair of tiresome guests, the Whatleys, Sephony espies a man coming up the walk carrying dead chickens. She dubs him “Chicken Man.” Claro, as he is more commonly known, comes into her kitchen; the next thing she knows, Sephony is following him through a passage that has fantastically opened in the floor of her larder, terminating in his world, Domino—a world “out there,” a world with its own morality, its unique social codes.
Claro is enticing rather than threatening. With Sephony plastered to his back, Claro flies around,...
(The entire section is 1834 words.)