HomeAll postsPure by Julianna Baggott

Pure by Julianna Baggott


a review by Nalini Haynes

Set in a post-apocalyptic dystopian future, Pureexplores this Brave New World through the eyes and memories of four point of view characters while using third person: Pressia, Partridge, Lyda and El Capitan. Every chapter is headed with the name of the character from whose view that chapter is written, so there is never any confusion. Pressia is a survivor living outside the Dome, an environment that protected a select few from the ravages of Nano-technological nuclear warfare. Outside the Dome during the Detonations, the apocalyptic event, the nano-technology fused Pressia’s right hand with a doll’s head. Pressia grew up with her grandfather, living in the office of his barber’s shop, scavenging and bartering for necessities.

Partridge, a young man studying at the academy inside the Dome, lives a comparatively sheltered life, yet his distrust of his father catapults him into escaping the Dome to search for his mother. Partridge asks Lyda to a dance, where their futures become entwined. Lyda, a teen girl, allows Partridge to violate her trust and steal a knife from a locked display using her key. After Partridge escapes the Dome, Lyda is hauled in to a corrections facility for interrogation. El Capitan and his brother Helmud were children riding a motor bike together when the Detonations fused them as Siamese twins, Helmud riding on El Capitan’s back. El Capitan is now the area leader of the OSR, a military group whose avowed purpose is Operation Sacred Revolution, taking down the Dome.

Pure, I love thee, let me count the ways! Pure is dystopian fiction at its finest, extrapolating current scientific knowledge, technological developments and social trends in the USA, creating a plausible future. Early on it appeared that the Detonations, the apocalyptic event, may have occurred tomorrow, using an existing experimental Dome. However, as the reader learns more about the present and past of this world through the experiences and memories of the characters, we discover that current social trends had escalated into the rise of a dystopian, totalitarian regime in the US. Feminism was warped into Feminine Feminism, where women were forced into 1950s moulds of Stepford wives. Church attendance was monitored by swiping cards, non-attendance punishable by incarceration in asylums and correction facilities. Current housing estates had developed into gated communities with a ‘friendly’ gatekeeper monitoring access.

Referring to historical records from the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II, Baggott extrapolates this into development of nano-technology that intentionally fuses people to their environment, whether that be to each other as is the case for El Capitan and Helmud, to animals, or to inanimate objects such as Pressia’s doll’s head, jewellery, machinery, the pavement etc. Thus horrific elements are introduced into the narrative; Dusts, for example, were human once but they’ve fused with the environment to such an extent that they are no longer human, hunting humans for food.

Although Baggott has built a world rich with detail, information is always imparted from the point of view of the characters, never as a third person omniscient information dump. Thus the world is unwrapped through the eyes of the central characters, allowing the reader to discover the treasures Baggott has hidden in each layer. As the central characters learn more about their world, or enter new zones in their quest – such as the Meltlands – triggered memories linked with current exploration and observation provide the reader with a wealth of detail.
Character introduction and development is excellent: each character is described with a little history given, enabling the reader to see them in the present while giving context. As the story progresses, the point of view character for that chapter shares more of him or herself: personal history building justification for motivations, current hopes and desires.

Romance was an additional flavour in Pure, not a primary ingredient. In these circumstances, when people have lost so much and seen so much death, it is natural to cling to life by clinging to one another. It would be unrealistic if characters who had weathered ordeals together did not feel a stronger pull towards one another; this is not unlike stories you’ve heard where survivors of a trauma pair up, at least for a time. If for no other reason, I think the small elements of romance in Pure are justified.

The plot is compelling, carrying me along to a quick finish. At first I thought Pure was good, even excellent, but as the plot developed, revealing more threads from present reality extrapolated into this speculative fiction, I was awestruck by the intricate detailed world-building coupled with skilled storytelling.

Pure is a story that can be read as superficially as one wishes, but the inherent symbolism enriches the narrative, taking Pure beyond the 4 star category into the Masterpiece category. For example, survivors of the Detonations are fused with objects or people around them: mothers, the feminine feminists, were bonded with their children who could never grow up. They become symbiotic creatures. Their weapons are kitchen utensils and garden tools, the protective maternal instinct of the women to protect their blessings and their burdens – their children – motivating them to unite into a fearsome force providing mutual protection. Symbols of religion abound in that one survivor is fused to a Christ-like cross, a portion of a metal window-frame that, along with the remainder of her infant fused to her arm, are her Cross to bear. Saint Wi___, a statue of a girl saint found behind plexiglass in a crypt, offers hope in the present although in the past, state mandated institutional religion was used to control the masses.

I’m endeavouring to keep this review brief and not to spoil the story, or I could continue in this vein for some time. Pure is storytelling at its best, offering many levels for exploration. I studied Brave New World in high school; I see Pure becoming the Brave New World of the 21st century, studied as Literature with a capital ‘L’ due to narrative merit coupled with symbolism. The primary differences between Pure and Brave New World are the difference in the time of writing allowing huge leaps in science and culture, coupled with Baggott’s skills as a storyteller. While Brave New World is brilliant, I confess to finding it a little on the dry side. Pure is a masterpiece.

Pure will appeal to fans of The Hunger Games.

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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